Friday, 06 March 2020
When businesses work together to share knowledge and ideas, everyone can thrive. We speak to three founders on how their networks have been a powerful tool for success.
Networking doesn’t have to be tricky. There are plenty of ways to approach it so you and those you meet are comfortable and able to get the best from the experience.
Liana Wilson-Fricker, founder of the Inspiration Space, a community for people who work for themselves, acknowledges that the hardest part of forming new links with other organisations can be knowing where to begin. She advises business owners to “hang out in spaces you like with people you enjoy”.
She says: “Find opportunities and events that add value to your professional or personal development. For example, I met an incredible contact at a supper club. It was a beautiful event in the Surrey Hills and it brought together a bunch of likeminded people.
“The event wasn’t business focused, but often people who love what they do can’t help but talk about it. We met up a few months later and it unlocked a phenomenal opportunity for my business.”
Wilson-Fricker recommends attending events that are interesting in their own right, which provides the chance to work and learn simultaneously. She believes collaboration gives solo entrepreneurs the chance to work with others to find ways to tackle challenges and to encounter new opportunities.
Personal and business growth
Cathy Hayward, MD of PR firm Magenta Associates, has expanded her company through the continuous effort made by her and her colleagues to forge new links with other businesses. And she says one of her proudest professional moments was when a client approached Magenta after meeting one of her colleagues at a networking event.
“None of us have all the answers,” Hayward says. “Talking and working with people from other organisations is the only way we can all grow personally and grow our businesses. I learn as much from my clients as they learn from me.”
Echoing this, Malika Shermatova, MD of Minerva PR, says the benefits of collaborating are “endless and include anything from accessing new markets, developing new or innovative products, services and deliverables, to financial benefits, and access to wider human capital and intellectual capital via information sharing and research”.
Shermatova also believes collaboration can enable businesses that specialise in different areas to complement each other and compete in markets usually beyond an individual’s reach. The key is to be positive and open-minded, she says.
“You’ll often bump into someone who uses networking events as a sales platform to pitch from, which can be quite awkward and off-putting,” she says. “I think changing that mindset around to discovering what you can do for someone else is a better approach: have a host-like mentality, even if you’re not the host. It’s certainly worked for me and has been the start to many great relationships that I have today.”
Finding the time to network can be challenging, but Hayward says t’s vital to prioritise it.
“When there are loads of other things on your to-do list – such as delivering client work, supporting colleagues, recruiting staff, pitching for new business and business planning – making the time to dedicate to networking is hard,” she says. “But it’s an invaluable tool both for expanding your knowledge and contact base and learning from others, so it’s a definite must for business owners.”
“Find opportunities and events that add value to your professional or personal development”
She adds that businesspeople should decide what they want to gain from any networking situation – whether it’s to make new contacts, win new business by meeting specific people, or talk to others in a similar situation and perhaps exchange knowledge.
“If you can get hold of an attendee list in advance, use it to plan who you’d like to meet,” advises Hayward. “Preparation is absolutely key. Do your research in advance and have a list, ideally with pictures, of the people you want to engage with.
“I recommend that people put together 30-second introductions about themselves to avoid that awkward moment when you’re introduced to someone. Having something to say gives you a bit of confidence.”
While preparation will be sufficient to help most people to break the ice, don’t be pressured into attending traditional events if they make you feel uncomfortable, as you won’t be at your best, Wilson-Fricker says.
“Take time to listen and learn – even if that means you don’t ‘work’ the room,” she says. “There’s a quote by Susan Cain that says: ‘One meaningful relationship is worth a fistful of business cards.’ I 100% believe that’s true.”
Another potential barrier to collaboration that Wilson-Fricker often observes is that of imposter syndrome. She urges business owners to remember that they have plenty to offer other entrepreneurs.
“I speak to a lot of people, both women and men, who don’t take advantage of collaborative opportunities because they don’t think they have any value to add, which is obviously rubbish,” she says.
“The key to a great collaboration is ensuring all parties benefit mutually, while understanding all of the value you bring into the room. If you have a cracking idea that you think would solve someone’s problem, don’t hesitate to get in touch to see if they’d like to find out more.”
Five tips for excellent networking
- Be interested in other people’s businesses
- Attend the types of business events that make you feel at ease
- Research the attendees and organisations that will be at an event and make a list
- Cultivate self-belief
- Be open to sharing information and ideas