Thoughts on Networking…A Very Personal View By One Who Knows

Greetings from Brighton

We’re hurtling head long towards the end of the year.  Merry Christmas and a very prosperous and peaceful New Year to all ye fellow business people out there – past and present customers, and those yet to darken my door and give me money for doing something I love.

2018 has been an amazing year for me: my biggest and best yet.  Why?  Because I’ve optimised my site to the max, I have a great deal of repeat business, and I’ve had loads of referrals.

I’ve worked a lot of weekends and as an early morning person, been up with the proverbial larks to get stuff done.  However, much of my business comes from…NETWORKING.

How about you?

As someone who runs networking events, attends a fair few and knows how to follow up properly from them (more later),  I thought that you may – or may not – find it useful to know what, in my experience works, and what doesn’t work.  At all.  Please don’t do the “what doesn’t work stuff”, that’s not good.

I’ve had an interesting year of networking.  Mostly good.  A few interesting moments, too.

This isn’t a “top tips” or “5 ways to…” or anything like that.  Most blogs should be written in this give-away-information style if you want to get found on the tinterweb.  However, indulge me, do.

Networking: It’s My Thing.

For the last five or so years I’ve been running Third Friday Brighton at the Pitcher and Piano near the seafront, and for the last three and a half years, Second Friday Hove, at the deeply wonderful Watchmaker’s Arms, in Goldstone Villas, Hove.  Both these events are part of the First Friday Network, founded 14 or so years ago by a talented graphic designer and branding expert called Steve Wilson, based in Chichester.  Steve is great, and very supportive.

There are a fair few First Friday Networks in and around the South and they’re all very good: very friendly, informal and FREE.

Loving the Networking

I’ll be upfront here and say that I love, love, love running these events.  Really, I do.  They’re quite hard work, you have to be “up”.  What I mean is, friendly and welcoming even when you feel like you’d rather be watching daytime TV or cleaning the oven.  Also, I have to maintain and add to a database, send regular newsletters and lately I’ve been organising for food to be served.

However, even if I’m feeling antisocial, which isn’t often, meeting interesting people, socialising and making sure that everyone has a good time is a thing of marvellousness.  Long may it continue.

It’s making a small difference in our local business community and that can only be good for our economy.

One-hit Wonders

I can always, always tell when someone comes along to networking that I will never, ever see again.  Apart from my spidey senses kicking in, one-time networkers tend to over-estimate what they can achieve in terms of “lead generation”.

Good networking is about building long-lasting and stable working relationships, even friendships.  You need to keep coming along.  On a regular basis.

By the way, I don’t get paid for running Second and Third Friday.  In fact, I pay an annual fee for each event but that’s easily do-able and enables me to expand my network massively.  I’m now known as someone who runs friendly networking events.

Friendly, you say?

Yes.  But only if this happens:

It helps if you actually have a business. 

Yes, try having something to promote that will genuinely engage and interest other people.  I’ve had a few people come along this year (and other years) purely interested in getting out of the house to meet some “vibrant young people”.

Whilst other clubs and gatherings cater for the lonely, I’m sorry but Second and Third Friday are not for you.  You’ll embarrass yourself and other people.  And, it will be me that gets the complaint emails.

Also, funnily enough I’m not keen on:

People who insult my business.

Did you know – and why indeed would you know – that I’m a fairly successful and committed Utility Warehouse Distributor?  Despite 25 years plus as a Sales Director and nearly 10 years’ experience as a copy and website content writer, UW is the best thing I have ever done in my life.

I save people loads of money, time and bother (they draw all your bills together on one supplier).   Oh yes, they’re multi award-winning, too.

So…don’t insult UW and then discover that I run a networking event you would like to attend.  If you use foul language about this business, or Sussex Copywriting Services, and then expect to come along to one of my events the answer will be…No.

Business is actually very easy. People make life difficult.  Don’t be one of those rude weird people.  OK?

OK, a few other slightly less controversial tips:

Come on.  Have business cards printed

“Hey, I met a fabulous hat designer at Second Friday and I’d like to buy one of her hats.  But she didn’t have a business card and I can’t remember who she is” could be one of the saddest things ever ever.

Why?  Because you have lost a customer for your lovely headpiece.  Your fedora has failed.  Your boater has bombed.   You are a milliner manqué

Having a business cards with readable writing, please (I’m 104 years old), elevates you to the position of a real person who takes their business and their marketing seriously.  Also, it means that I can put your email on my database quickly and easily so that you can come to lots of other meetings.

You’ll Need a Website

Ideally, you should have a website.  I do however know people who can create a bee-yoo-tiful site for you.  It doesn’t have to be fancy pants but if you’re a digital marketer without a website people will think you’re a bit crap.  If you run social media campaigns and you’re sans website, you’ve lost a bit of credibility right from the get go.  See what I mean?

Other thoughts...

Photographers:  Bring along your portfolio.  An album with your images printed out, if you please.  Only ONE photographer in five years has done this.  As a writer, I can’t actually print out stuff to bring along – there’s too much for a start, and I don’t know what you’re into.

But those fine folks who take wonderful pictures?  Go on, it will be very good for your business.

Don’t bring food and offer samples.  That’s so disrespectful to the people running the bar so don’t do it.  If they spot you doing this they will ask you to leave.

Try to arrive early.  There’s something about birds and worms here but I resist cliches like the plague, of course.

Follow Up Properly

No, people won’t think you’re pushy.  No, they won’t judge you as a “sales person” for sending a polite email expressing genuine interest in their business and asking them to meet you for a coffee.

I get business from networking because I send direct emails like this:

“Hello, J

It was great to meet you at Third Friday Brighton last week and I hope you enjoyed the event.  I do hope that you will keep coming along etc etc…As a website content writer, I’ve had a good look through your website and it looks great. 

I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve got some ideas that could make it sparkle a little bit more.

Also, I don’t meet many people in business who make iron railings for a living.  In fact, you’re the only person and as someone who organises networking events, I’d like to recommend you to other people in my network.  How are you fixed on (date) at (time)? 

Fancy a posh cup of coffee at the Hotel du Vin?”

Or something like that. Simple, to the point.  Asking for a meeting and showing a genuine interest in what they do and how they do it.  

And then keep doing it.

Oh yes, what else?

  • Don’t get too pissed.  It’s a pub but it’s still not a good look.
  • Don’t turn up in a tiny mini skirt.  Not a good look on men, in general, and on women:  come on ladies: it’s a BUSINESS NETWORKING EVENT, not a nightclub.  Your lack of judgement is showing.  Leave your compulsion to show off your body to another time.
  • Do show authentic interest in the people you meet.
  • But…Don’t aggressively fire questions at people.  They are not passing some sort of ridiculous “test”.

And finally…

  • Don’t put fizzy powder up your nose in the toilets.  You know who you are and I can tell.  I’m quite smart, you know.

So, all that remains, as they say, is for me to make a graceful exit.  If you found this blog useful, tell all your friends.  If you didn’t – you ain’t seen me, right?

Merry Christmas.

Susan Beckingham

Purveyor of tales, narratives and other wordy stuff.