The term ‘networking’ used to put me off. I’d imagine an awkward room full of strangers, standing around trying to impress others. Others who, had already made up their minds about who they were going to pay attention to or not.
Cynical, I know but, I’d spent countless evenings at networking events, hoping for a different experience, in vain. Instead, I’d come home feeling, if I’m honest, a bit less confident and wondering if there was something wrong with me.
Yup, been there. Over it.
A necessary evil?
At the same time, I knew there was a reason people were putting themselves through this. I knew it could be a solution to one of the common challenges that we touched on in the first CAKE Series Twitter chat, a few weeks ago: how to focus on your current plate of work, but also keep new work coming in.
The turning point
The past year has been very different and it’s all thanks to some amazing women that I know, who each invited me to be a part of something. I’ll get on to that in a moment, but first … Once I found ways to network that worked for me, I realised 2 things:
- Networking can be an extension of the things that I already love to do – such as getting to know new people, who share my values and interests and; connecting them with others
- Networking is an invaluable way to build the relationships that will generate the kind of opportunities that will support my growth (and that of my creative practice and business), in the most meaningful of ways
So how have I been networking in the past year?
There are 5 particular experiences I want to share that you too can take advantage of/find/recreate, wherever you are. In chronological order:
1. I joined a mastermind group I’d been thinking about this concept ever since I read the classic Napoleon Hill book, Think and Grow Rich. A mastermind group offers a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability and support in a group setting to sharpen your business and personal skills (definition from here). Last year I started wanting to put action behind the thought. As the universe would have it, my old friend, career coach Gina Visram, was thinking the same thing. In no time after we realised this, Gina had put together a group of ladies and we were having our first meeting! There are 7 of us in the group, from diverse professional (and personal) backgrounds which, works really well because we each bring a different perspective. We meet once a month for a couple of hours and keep in touch between sessions via a dedicated Whatsapp group. The support, insight, ideas and encouragement we share with each other has been life-changing.
2. I joined a networking group Business coach, Danielle Anderson, invited me to visit a networking group she’d joined – the Women in Business Network (WIBN). I went and had a delicious lunch with around 15 women who were: welcoming, interesting, passionate and supportive. It reminded me of how fantastic it feels to be in a space, sharing with and cheering on other women. Of how there can be magic in a room, with women who were, moments before, strangers to you – women who you might never have otherwise met. Not only was it warm and fuzzy in the best way possible, but I recognised what an effective – and genuine – way to network it was. Sitting around a table for 2 hours, with structure, and each person having the spotlight for a moment. After another visit, it was confirmed that this was something that I would invest in. Months down the line, I have established some amazing relationships. I have found clients, customers, collaborators (and collaborations!), as well as been introduced to services which have been useful for my business, as well as served me on a personal level (e.g. I’m working with an amazing homeopath and a somatics movement educator who has helped me end 15 years+ of knee pain!).
3. I joined a brunch club Inducted by a friend, I joined another group of entrepreneurial women who meet for brunch every 2 months. The setting and format is more informal. Think a catch up with your girls, who all happen to be hustling to realise their dreams and change things. There is support, encouragement and exchanging of ideas and connections. And there is, as with the groups above, a private Facebook group to share and check-in on a day-to-day basis.
4. I joined an underground women’s circle Not too different from the brunch club and again, I was inducted by a friend. This group’s members have a particular shared interest and we meet for dinner every other month or so. We eat, chat and at the end, we each have a moment to share announcements and achievements. The opportunities flow organically from there.
5. I go to things I like and talk to people Yes, it’s that simple. I go to events that spark my interest and I talk to people who I’m drawn to, or are drawn to me. If the rapport is truly there, we arrange to meet up at a later date, where we have dedicated time to really find out more about each other. I have met and gotten to know some wonderful women (and men) this way. They have become friends, supporters and ambassadors for what I do (and it goes both ways).
It’s NOT about connections
It’s really about building relationships. You will not be a good networker if you approach people, thinking only about what they can do for you. As with romantic relationships, it’s a two-way street. Yes, I misled you with the title of this post and, I would encourage you to not even think in terms of connections. Perhaps it’s just semantics but, to me, ‘connections’ aren’t necessarily about each party involved providing mutual value to the other. You have so much more to gain from relationships – I surely have.
Nowadays, I no longer see networking as something that I should probably do, at least every once in a while, on an evening after work. Rather …
Networking is an integral aspect of my business and lifestyle.
How do you network? Share in the comments below
(This post was originally published on The CAKE Series blog)
- Dispatches from WOW: Digital Tapestries – Exploring how women are connecting and creating communities online
- A quote on connectedness and self-reliance (2 sides of the same coin?)
- 5 Reasons to Have a Business Partner: Entrepreneurs Need People Part I
- 5 Reasons to Have a Team: Entrepreneurs Need People Part II
- Why I Choose to be an Entrepreneur
Don't miss an installment – different ways to get your Afri-love delivered. You can also stay up to date by liking the Afri-love Facebook page or following Afri-love (@afrilove) on Twitter or on Google+.
Check out my many Africa-related Pinterest boards covering the arts, design, music and more.
Subscribe for fortnightly updates with Afri-love highlights and developments, as well as info on interesting events, must-reads and more for you to check out elsewhere.