Tag Archives | networking

The network power of Forward Ladies

One of the best things about starting my own writing and training business has been building my network. It was always part of my plan to work with new and different clients, but I didn’t anticipate how quickly I would be welcomed as part of the small business network in the North East.

I’ve joined a couple of online networking groups, and attended a couple of face to face get togethers (for details see my blog post about networking as an introvert). And I’ve been impressed by the level of support and encouragement I’ve received from fellow business owners.

So, when three amazing business women in my new network mentioned Forward Ladies, the UK’s largest business support network for women in business, I took it as a sign that I should go and see what it was all about.

A new business network

Griselda Togobo and Antonia Brindle of Forward Ladies network

Griselda Togobo, Antonia Brindle, Forward Ladies network

I attended my first Newcastle Forward Ladies Power Breakfast last week. Sarah Gray of Grays Powers of Attorney even gave me a lift – how easy could it be!

My timing couldn’t have been better, as the guest speaker was the impressive owner, Griselda Togobo. She told us how she’s inspired to be in business every day by her mum, who grew up in Ghana, and didn’t go to school, but ignored all the people who told her she couldn’t, and set up her own construction business.

Griselda spoke passionately about not letting anything get in the way of being a woman in business. Making our own decisions, being the ones signing the cheques, Griselda maintains that there’s never been a better time to be a woman in business.

Amazing support

As it was my first event, I was given the opportunity to introduce myself and my writing and training business, Wordstruck. But more importantly, two of my new network friends, Jo Darby of Voice in the Room and Clare Talbot Jones of Talbot Jones Risk Solutions spoke unprompted, about how I’d helped them. I’ve only met these amazing women recently and have been inspired by their personal and professional approach, so their words really meant a lot to me.

That demonstrated better than anything the values of  Forward Ladies. It’s not a network that’s about selling, but one that focuses on supporting each other and helping businesses grow together. That’s a value that I feel is very important to me and the way I choose to do business.

New connections and opportunities

There’s often much said and written about the loneliness and isolation of running a small business or being a sole trader. But my experience so far has been quite the opposite. I’m delighted to have found amazing encouragement and positivity from my new network of independent business people.

I am excited to be part of another powerful and enthusiastic network in Forward Ladies. And I’m forward to learning from other businesses and using my skills and experience to help them too.

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Networking as an introvert

As part of developing my writing and training business with Wordstruck, I’ve been networking. But here’s the thing. I’m an introvert. I’ve done umpteen of those personality tests during my time working in corporate environments, and I’m always firmly in the introvert camp. And networking doesn’t come easy to an introvert.

It sometimes surprises people that I’m an introvert. As a journalist, I presented news stories live on radio and television. I’ve fronted pitches for creative campaigns. And, as my friends know, I’m not averse to a bit of showing off.

picture of a crowd at a gigBut being an introvert doesn’t mean disliking people and wanting to retreat from the world completely. It just means that situations like crowds, with lots of people, noise and other distractions really drain my energy.

Basically, I love a great gig, but going onto the after show party might be a step too far. I’d rather find a quiet corner to write down how amazing it was, or tell you all about it one to one.

Networking can be a scary prospect for introverts. The thought of a room full of extroverts who are loud, full of energy and sell, sell, sell. Why would you want to be part of that?

But this blog post by Denise of Digital Life Unlimited is a useful reminder of why it’s important to get out there and network person to person face to face. So, I thought I’d share how I’ve approached networking as an introvert.

Pick your event

I’ve been to two network breakfasts run by the Mussel Club at Motel One in Newcastle. These are great events for me, because they’re early (when I’m feeling my sharpest) and they’re specifically designed for businesses who want to network.

I was a bit daunted by going along to my first one, but I zipped up my courage, broke out my best smile on and trotted off with a pile of business cards.

Get there early

I hate being late for things anyway. But being early is a good tactic for introverts because it means the networking event isn’t noisy and crowded from the start. If the thought of ploughing into a room full of people all engaged in a conversation gives you the heebie-jeebies, plan to arrive a few minutes early.

I was greeted by Matthew from the Mussel Club, who immediately put me at ease, showing me where I could leave my coat and get a drink and a pastry at the bar. He also started to ask questions, ‘What brought me there?’ ‘Had I been to one of these events before’. And before I knew it, I was networking.

Questions to ask

Networking events are designed for networking. It’s okay to go over to a stranger and say hello and ask what they do, or why they’re there. Everyone is there for the same purpose.

I quickly learned a few easy questions that I could use to open up a conversation with someone new:

  • “What do you do?” (Pretend you’re a member of the Royal family)
  • “Have you been to one of these things before?” (Hello, I’m new, be nice to me)
  • “What brought you along today?” (I’m here for the same thing  – coffee and croissants are always a bonus)

What to say about your business

Wordstruck business cardsWhen someone approaches you and asks one of those questions, it’s an invitation to say something about your business . If you’re particularly nervous about doing this, then have something in mind and practise it a few times. I’d just written my website, so was fairly confident about being able to talk about my writing and training services.

One thing I did was to introduce myself as a writer, or to say something like: “When a business needs a website, or a brochure, or a blog post, or anything that tells their customers about what they do, I write the words for it.” Although my official job title used to be copywriter, it’s not a term that everyone recognises outside the world of marketing, so saying what I actually do is more helpful.

It’s not about an elevator pitch or selling anything. It’s just telling people what you do. Don’t forget to ask them what they do too. You might find something in common.

Listen

Introverts are generally good at listening. Unless we go into panic mode and blurt out our entire life history. At a networking event, you don’t have to be the one doing the talking. Smile, listen and chip in with a question or response.

Does the person you’re talking to have something in common with someone else you’ve spoken to? Can you make an introduction, or ask them to introduce you to someone else? This can be as simple as asking ‘Do you know anyone else here today?’

Give yourself some time

Meeting lots of new people can be a bit overwhelming for introverts, so take your time, and step back from conversations as they move on. You don’t want to be the wallflower, standing on the edges, not engaging with anyone; but finding an opportunity to have a drink, use the facilities or just take a breath or two can give you the confidence to keep on networking.

Also watch out for anyone else who may be looking a little lost or unsure. Say hello and ask one of your conversation opening questions. Chances are, you’ll have found a fellow introvert and they’ll appreciate the gesture.

Take some business cards

It’s not a great idea to thrust a card in everyone’s hand and head for the door. Networking is about having conversations.

At The Mussel Club events I’ve been to, I didn’t swap business cards with everyone I met, but if I felt we’d had a useful conversation, and if they offered theirs, I always asked and offered my details.

Follow up

The events I’ve been to combined well-seasoned networkers as well as newbies like me. As soon as I got home, I started to get emails and connections to my social media profiles from some of the people I’d talked to.

It’s a good idea to follow up after a networking event, even if it’s just to say ‘nice to meet you’. It helps remind people who you are and where you’ve met, potentially keeping you front of mind for recommendations or opportunities.

Give it a try

It only takes one connection to put you on track for a new customer or future client. And even if the networking event doesn’t immediately bring in business, it can be a good way of building confidence. I’ve found it good practice to talk about my business to lots of other business people.

I’ve met some friendly and professional business people at networking events, including the very lovely Clare of Talbot Jones Risk Solutions. Clare does a great job of writing content for their website, and articles for relevant publications, so they have no need of my writing skills. But we found something in common in our interest in charities and I’m benefitting from their advice on protecting my own business interests.

If you’re going to a networking event in the North East, let me know in the comments. If I can, I’ll do my best to say hello.

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