As a female entrepreneur I am constantly told the key to growing your business is Networking. It’s who you know not necessarily what you know. Networking to me was an incredibly daunting prospect – facing a room full of people and doing what I felt was the “hard sell”. I am NOT a sales person. I am an interior designer and business owner so to me the thought of essentially selling myself to strangers was terrifying. However networking was a subject that was constantly within my radar and I knew I would have to just commit already and do something about it.
So finding the right networking event is key. For those of you starting your own business or maybe thinking of starting your own business I would recommend Eventbrite to tap into resources that in most cases are free and very readily available. Many of the banks – Bank of Ireland and AIB especially, run business start-up events around the country which also pose as networking opportunities.
They advertise these on Eventbrite and on their own websites under events. I felt these were an excellent introduction to networking. It’s a positive environment with people from all areas of industry and everyone is fairly relaxed so no pressure to perform per se.
Other events that are available are specifically networking, round table or discussion events. I am still quite scared of these as I feel they are little bit beyond where I am currently at. I do hope to be a premium networker before too long – I just need more practice.
Some other great options are attending Chamber of Commerce weekly networking events. These are usually held early morning mid-week and are run all over the country. These are a brilliant source of contacts. You don’t have to be a paid member to attend. You can contact the specific meeting and ask to attend as a guest and then make up your mind on whether the subscription will be beneficial or not for you. I personally paid my membership for the Women’s Network of Ireland and I have found it to be very fulfilling and beneficial as a female entrepreneur. The events are full of women who are all at different stages in their businesses – some are start-ups, some well-established but the wealth of knowledge and support is wonderful. The positive energy in the room is a thing of beauty.
So if you decide to bite the bullet here are some top tips for novice networking:
- Don’t be afraid to approach someone. Everyone is there for the same reason, they are all looking to make contact and connect. If you’re looking for an in, a little compliment helps ease the way “oh I love your bag!” is always nice.
- Smile and have an open manner. It won’t help if you have your eyes glued to your mobile phone. Try to look approachable in your body language so no crossed arms or lack of eye contact. It can be hard and you might not be in the humour but I always say to myself it’s only an hour or 2 hours of your life and who knows what could happen.
- Have a question prepared. Nearly everyone in the world enjoys talking about themselves and entrepreneurs love to talk about their businesses if you only give them an opportunity. A good way to spark conversation is to ask “What do you hope to gain from attending the event?” Or “Why are you here this evening?”. It’s a little more open than asking a closed question of “What do you do?”
- Don’t expect miracles from each event. I have attended a good few networking events and they don’t always result in solid business leads. However what I have made are some friends who are also entrepreneurs which is hugely beneficial. These are people you can talk honestly to about your struggles and successes. Its also a great way to make solid contacts with contractors that you could use or someone you know could use down the line.
Networking is mainly about making a good impression. Its great to be memorable and have a positive impact on who you meet. If you are open, friendly, honest and unassuming people will remember you and WHO KNOWS what could come from that.