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Why Networking Works

how I built my business one conversation at a time...

 

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Last week I was invited to speak to a group of ladies who are starting out on their entrepreneurial dreams… there were ten women in the room, and what they all had in common, was  the fact they were Mums who have been out of the workplace for a while, and are considering starting a business of their own.  The group was called ‘What Mummy Did Next’.   And yes, there were cupcakes!

I was really pleased to be able to give some of my own experience of starting a business in an attempt to offer some real life experience and have a bit of Q&A about what my bumps in the road had been.   One of the ladies asked me how I got my first clients, and what did I recommend they do.  My advice to them and to anyone starting out, is to get networking.

People like people – if you can meet other business owners at your local networking event, you not only can learn from their experience, but you may actually land a client!     When I started Social Bee, I went to the local council business networking group.   I found that the business owners there, may have had fantastic skills in their own market, but some were out of their depth when it came to using social media.   By attending regularly, and getting to know people within the group, when it came to suggesting someone who was good at helping with social media, my name was at the front of their minds.

Over the past three years of running my business, I would say that over 75% of my clients have come from either meeting someone at a business event, or having been recommended by someone who knows and trusts my brand.    If you look online, you will find lots of potential networking events to try out.  Some will work out, and some won’t.   Don’t be disheartened if you have been to three or four events and have no follow up.

I was invited to speak to a local bank at their head office,  to train the customer service team in using social media.  I was so excited at the possibilities that this may lead to, but I ddin’t realise that I was completely off target.    What actually happened was that the initial contact I had made, invited me along to the Institute of Director’s Annual Women’s conference in Belfast.   I went along to the event, unsure of what to expect.  The event was excellent, the speakers were inspiring, and there wsa lots of buzz about the place.   Being a working mum, I had to leave early to arrange to pick up the kids, and didn’t actually get to spend too long chatting with the lady who had invited me.

However…  when I sat down at one of the tables, a lady called Roisin asked could she sit beside me, as like me, she didn’t know too many other attendees.    We got to chatting about life and business, and at the end, before I dashed off to the school gate, I handed Roisin my business card.    Fast forward about a month later, no follow up from the bank or my contact there (hardly surprising –I hadn’t manage to catch up and network with my potential client at the event – note to everyone – make sure you spend a few minutes chatting to potential clients when you can – and try to get someone else to pick up the kids now and again!!)    So a month later, I get a phonecall from Roisin, who says she is running for local government, and would I be able to work with her on how to use social media for her campaign.  This lead to a runaway success election into the local council, and two years later we ran a very close campaign for N.Ireland’s Assembly Elections.    My point is, the banking opportunity never came, but in its place, I met one of my most interesting clients and got involved into a world which I had no idea about.   So if you are starting out with your own business, and need to start attracting clients,  get along to your local networking events.   There will be networks run by your local council,  traders associations,  women’s groups – have a look on Facebook or ask someone you know who is already in business where they recommend.   Good luck!

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