I’ve been self-employed for quite a few years now. Having a background in digital media, I’m quite used to virtual working and using the Internet to stay in touch with clients. I also find it quite easy to switch between a work and home headspace and don’t have a problem with the discipline of working aboard our boat. The first priority when we moved to our new location was to build a local new network for Virtual Demons.
I hate referral networking meetings (usually at some ungodly hour of the morning) where everyone turns up in suits and spends a couple of hours selling to one another. You have to make a commitment to attend every week and bring along referrals for others in the group. I feel like I have to be on my best behaviour and am being judged not only for my business content but the clothes I wear. For me, it brings back memories of male-dominated boardrooms and endless pointless meetings and I find it really hard to be authentic in this kind of environment. These type of meetings still exist and while they do work very well for some people, they don’t for me. You can check out the various networking events in your area at Find Networking Events .
Recently I have been attending the local Business Connected networking breakfasts and these are a breath of fresh air compared to the ones above. People do talk business, that’s what we’re there for, but no pressure on producing the referrals (so they happen naturally). It’s just more relaxed and I have been able to build up some good relationships quickly and naturally.
I was really surprised to find some very active Facebook networking groups in my area (search for area name + business) – and they weren’t just selling to one another. In fact, the three groups that I now actively take part in have completely separate promotion groups. These are women only groups and are supportive, friendly and very business focused. Two are local and one is international with a local branch. I have been to quite a few face-to-face meetings and intend to attend on a regular basis to help build my business. I have received bookings through these groups and am building up some fabulous relationships both on and offline.
We also signed up for European funded training that was supplied by the local Chamber of Commerce for small businesses (I will write more about accessing business funding in a future post). Through this programme, we not only learned new skills, but also spend full days with other local small businesses. On the first training day, we walked out with a booking and by the end of three workshops had developed a very targeted list of those interested in our services.
Networking is very important, but it is not a quick fix. Finding the right network that resonates with you and your business is just as important as partaking on a regular basis. I have made many new business friends, potential suppliers and clients who I can build up a trusted network with over time – both on and offline. I reckon we have at least a year before we are ready to set sail and become true virtual workers so investing time in building these relationships will be invaluable in the long run.