Networking works. When I started my business almost a year ago, I didn’t write a business plan, create financial projections, or spend months getting everything ready. While these preparations are appropriate for many businesses before launch, I just needed to know if my idea had legs before I started to invest my time and money.
So, instead I wrote a clearly articulated pitch and took myself off to some networking as a quick and effective way to assess the general response.
It wasn’t easy and I was definitely out of my comfort zone but, as it turns out, every networking experience I’ve had since then has been positive. As I approach the one-year anniversary of my business and reflect on the highs and lows of the last 12 months, one thing is crystal clear: I wouldn’t have a business without networking. Here’s why…
It got me in front of people — quickly!
There are lots of ways to get clients and make the connections you need when you’re starting a business. A big advantage of networking is that it immediately allows people to see the person behind the business and, as people do business with people, this personal connection is invaluable.
I started to pick up clients quickly once I began networking because the people I met knew they wanted to work with me. This would have been a much longer and more complicated process had I just sent on-spec emails or made cold calls.
I’ve learned how to talk about my business
Starting and running a business by yourself can be a lonely affair at times and it’s easy to be seduced by your own internal monologue. For me, networking opened up opportunities to learn how to talk about my business in a way that really helped others to understand what I’m offering and why it might be useful for them.
Being asked questions I hadn’t predicted and having to describe in more depth the value of my business gave me renewed perspective on the business itself as well as on how I might like to articulate what I offer.
It’s helped me find my people
Over the last year I have attended a variety of online and in-person networking and have gradually learned what kind of networking works best for my business. Almost a year in, I know I prefer a more relaxed and informal style and a hybrid model of some online and some face-to-face.
I also know I prefer smaller groups where I can get involved in deeper conversations that help me really get to know people. Understanding this has allowed me to focus on the kind of networking that works for me and find the people most aligned with my business, values and aspirations.
Some of those people recommend me!
Every single piece of work I’ve had in the last 12 months has come either from networking or from recommendations. Just in the last week I’ve had enquiries from people who have been given my name not only by existing or former clients but also by people with whom I have never worked but who know me through networking.
And because I’ve been doing this a little while now, I’m starting to be able to return that gesture, which is a great way of being able to say thank you!
I’ve learned so much!
Few things excite me as much as learning and, the fact is, networking is one big chance to learn!
Being around a dynamic, ambitious and interconnected group of business people is like being part of a living search engine. From new connections, to useful data, papers, organisations, news, regulations and business developments, it’s a massive hive mind of new information. The value of this cannot be overstated.
It’s enabled me to keep my business resilient and promote growth
We can make as many predictions as we like but we all get hit with curve balls now and again. Regular networking means I have the contacts in place to make it easier for me to find a new client (or clients!) should I need to. This will be essential if I ever lose a client but it’s also critical if I am going to move forward in any meaningful way.
As I now prepare for growth in my business and am therefore refining what I offer, having my network in place enables me to keep my business not just intact, but resilient enough to quickly thrive once it’s through to the next stage.
A total learning curve
Networking has been a learning curve for me over the last year and I haven’t always done it ‘right.’ There have been times when I’ve said stupid things to the wrong people, failed to bridge slightly awkward silences, or unconvincingly tried to hide the fact I’d just bitten into a too-hot canapé, but the extraordinary generosity of those in business and their real understanding of the amount of work, energy and stamina it takes to start a business and move it forward has been utterly humbling and has helped me in some pretty tricky moments.
As I enter the second year of my business and prepare to make the difficult (and frightening!) decisions around expansion, I cannot imagine being able to do that without continuing to network. If the last year is anything to go by, I’m going to meet some pretty amazing people over the next 12 months!
Annabel Carington — Founder at Carington Creative.