The Playground’s Guide to Effective Networking: Which Kid Are You?

You’ve probably heard the startling stats. We fear public speaking more than we fear death.

When it comes to networking, many of us have a similar fear. We become uneasy and anxious because we fear the unknown or we worry that we won’t have the right words to say.

Why do adults struggle so much with networking?

I’m a mum to a two-year-old, Jacob. Umpteen trips to playgroups and playgrounds made me realise how similar playgrounds are to networking events. Parks, soft play areas, birthday parties and kids clubs — environments where children are surrounded by strangers and expected to build relationships, get along and even play together.  

There is a lot to learn from children, many of whom seem not to fear much. In this blog, I will describe the likeness of four kinds of children in the playground and who they might be as grown-ups while networking.

From Hating Networking to Loving It

First, let me tell you a little about my networking journey. I transitioned from a nursing career into the business world in 2012. I went from broken bones, blood and bandages to suits, sales and strategy practically overnight! Business networking was new to me and I found it very uncomfortable. I was definitely the person who would collect their name badge and delegate list from the registration table, then feel physically sick at the thought of walking into a room full of strangers and joining conversations.

Over time and with plenty of practice, mentoring and a dose of self-awareness, I have grown to enjoy networking and still do it on a regular basis. I am much better at networking and now I really enjoy it.

Whether you are a senior executive or the founder of a newly formed start-up, networking is a crucial part of growing your support network and building relationships with potential buyers. Since noticing the synergy between children in the playground and adults networking, I have been watching closely and have found some common threads.

 

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Here are four kinds to think about…

Networking Kid: Sideline Sally

This is the child who stays on the sidelines waiting to be asked to join in. At a networking event, this is the person who stands in the corner of the room reading the delegate list or scrolling through their phone, and not joining conversations. They try to look busy but secretly hope that someone will engage them in conversation. This was me in 2012!

Networking Kid: Clingy Callum

This child holds on to his mother’s leg, getting used to his surroundings until he feels he can go it alone. You recognise this person as the networker who wants to enter the room with someone they already know (e.g. a colleague or friend) and sticks with this individual until someone else approaches or they start to feel comfortable enough to talk to other people. Sadly, Clingy Callum might never feel comfortable and will always stick to one person throughout the event!

Networking Kid: Empathetic Eddie

There is usually an empathetic child in the playground. They play well with others but they keep an eye out for anyone on their own. Often, Empathetic Eddie will ask if the child on his own would like to play. This is similar to what I do now. I often look out for the people hanging around the coffee point or standing in the corner waiting to be approached.

Networking Kid: Overbearing Olivia

The overbearing child that clings on to others, not giving them any personal space.   I’m sure you’ve met that annoying person at a networking event that doesn’t let you get a word in. They have the ability to talk AT YOU for 30 minutes without coming up for air!  I’ve had to politely excuse myself from such conversations and I’m certainly getting better at escaping them now.

In Summary

It is important for us to think about the type of networker we are and become aware of our own traits and habits. Maybe there is something you can practice to help you develop more effective networking skills.

If you need any help, let me know!

 

10 Tips for Networking with Senior Executives

Does networking with senior executives terrify you? I have been surrounded by business owners for most of my career and I’ve learned a lot through their friendship, mentoring and counsel. In this blog post, I am going to offer some advice for getting comfortable with networking around senior executives.

Early Career: Networking with Senior Executives

At 16, I completed a Summer placement at Wood Group Management Services where I worked alongside their top three executives. They were as ‘normal’ as could be and I had no hesitation asking them questions. I chatted about life, what they did on the weekend, their families and sometimes asking for advice and guidance. Maybe the teenage girl in me was yet to learn the common hierarchy of the business world.

I went on to nursing where I cared for known sportsmen, a royal, a TV celebrity and many senior executives.  My earlier experience remained true – they were normal people with a need (usually needing to be fixed) and it was my job to support them and their families through the process.

Don’t get me wrong, I had difficult patients. Like a few who thought that their O&G title and medical insurance should place them in a private hospital with fillet steak for dinner. Unfortunately for them, they had to be treated like everyone else.  When it comes to an emergency, a private hospital doesn’t have an A&E or Trauma department, there is no special treatment for titles or high salaries.  And there’s certainly no fillet steak served at NHS hospitals!

Entering the Business World: Networking with Senior Executives

Now in the business world, I have no anxieties at all about networking with senior executives. In my first job after nursing, I worked and shared an office with the company director.  I was quickly networking with other directors and meeting with MDs for lunch.

Honestly, I often found middle management harder to deal with.  Perhaps because by the time a person gets to senior executive level or is running their own business, they have a different manner about them. They seem to respect people who work hard, and they have a no BS policy, which resonates with me. I’ve loved dealing with people like this.  

10 Tips For Networking With Senior Level Executives

Top Tips: Networking with Senior Executives

I’m thankful for my early career experience with senior executives. I believe that it helped me build the senior level network I have today. To be able to pick up the phone and ask for advice or guidance has been invaluable for my career. Networking with senior executives is key to business development. No wonder that is where most of my clients come from.  

Here are 10 tips for making the most of networking with senior executives:

  1. Start a conversation asking about their interests. Remember that even CEOs are human beings too and therefore want to engage in normal conversations. Be genuinely interested in what they have to say.
  2. Avoid treating executives as superhuman. Simply treat them as you’d like to be treated.
  3. Don’t name drop as a way to get their attention. Be yourself – be real!
  4. Respect their time. Senior executives are usually running a business or managing a large part of an organisation, so if they give you their time, use it wisely and respectfully.
  5. Get to the point and make it memorable to take advantage of the short amount of time you might have with them. It will make the next part easier too…
  6. Follow up after your meeting. Ensure you thank them for their time and advice. This is important for relationship building at all levels.
  7. Offer your help if the opportunity arises. Senior leaders are not experts in everything and they could need help from time to time. Whether it’s a travel tip or information about a new piece of technology that might mitigate a challenge, offer something that benefits them (and I don’t mean a sales pitch!).
  8. Ask for advice or mentoring. Senior executives are often more than happy to help others.  If you feel a specific leader would make an ideal mentor for you, ask them. You could also ask for feedback or advice in an area of your business or career to benefit from their expertise straight away.  
  9. Be genuine. Truly listen rather than just waiting for your turn to speak. Give sincere responses.
  10. Don’t sell at the first meeting. This is off-putting to most people, and especially to the guy at the top! Invest in building a relationship first. An MD or CEO will often pass a supplier enquiry down to a colleague as this isn’t often where their focus is….do not be offended by this.

Next time you are invited to a networking event with senior executives in attendance, don’t be anxious. Be yourself, be respectful and enjoy spending time with people who are as human as you and I.

 

How to Build a Support Network for Your Business

Many of us start our own businesses for the same reasons: to have more flexibility, to make a difference, to be rewarded for all the hard work we put in and maybe to look after ourselves better. These were the reasons I went into self-employment in 2015; following a cancer diagnosis and finally getting the ‘all-clear’.

I started with good intentions. I was going to take more time for myself and have at least one day off a week. But it never happened. I was at full work capacity within 3 months, then I became pregnant. It was crazy!

Here is how I grew and sustained the support network that keeps me sane.

Remember your vision

I have found a number of ways to look after myself, but the most important has been the support network that I have built around me. It includes my family and friends, but my peers play the most vital role.

These are professional contacts, mainly business owners, who I can speak openly to and learn from. I’ve learned things like time management, prioritisation, good leadership and how to not take things personally.

One huge lesson for me has been to keep revisiting why you started up and what is important to you. Remind yourself of these facts over and over… especially when you’re having a tough day.

Keep loving what you do

Occasionally, I meet and work with business owners who have stopped enjoying what they do. They might even hate it! I love being one of the people that can help them turn it around again.  It makes my job so rewarding as a consultant.

Because I come across these people, I always think “I never want that to be me”. I don’t want to get to a point in my business where I’m not enjoying what I’m doing. My support network helps me to keep loving every minute and remind me of why I’m doing it.

Find your best friend in business

I’ve built a support group by meeting new people and building relationships. This has now culminated in running a networking group called Business Connect UK with my friend and colleague, Catriona Stevenson.

We originally met through a mutual business contact and we hit it off straight away. We speak every day now, even on weekends. Our husbands and some clients call us “the work wives” – it’s become a running joke!

Working for yourself can be very lonely. In a team, you can bounce ideas off each other, or have someone read a proposal before you send it to a client. Building a network gives you that support from people who want you to succeed.

Network with other business owners

When I’m at networking events or engaging on LinkedIn, I often ask business owners if we can meet for a follow-up coffee. I know that they’re likely to be going through the same things I’m experiencing as a business owner. You don’t have to always be selling to someone.

I want to learn from these people, and in turn, they often want to know more about my business. I realise that they are not always going to need or want my service offering but, nonetheless, I always try and help them somehow, maybe with an introduction or some useful intel.

Gradually, the relationship starts to build. So, whilst I don’t have an official mentor, in reality, I have many unofficial mentors. Actively going to people and saying, “Look, I’m stuck here, can you help me?” can be difficult, but it is a powerful thing.  

If you are a business owner, connect with other business owners. If you work alone, force yourself to get out and meet people.

 

how to build a support network for your business

 

Form a routine to meet and follow up with new contacts

One networking platform that helped me when I started was ABN Contact Builder. It forced me to get out and meet a couple of new people each month.

I never knew who I was going to meet because Andrew Smith would send me an email with the names of the new contacts to follow up with. It could be anybody – IT, Telecoms, Retail, Charity, Oil & Gas etc. If the meeting went well, I’d usually say, “Why don’t we catch up again in 3 months?”. Usually, you can schedule something there and then.

But here’s a small caveat. You sometimes need more than one meeting to ‘click’ and feel comfortable with the person, before they become part of your peer support group.

Manage your time wisely

When I first started my business, I wasn’t a mum, so I had way more time on my hands. But I was still doing crazy hours. Every day, I’m working with clients, doing my own business development and maintaining a network – that’s more than a full-time job all by itself.

The hardest thing is to get that balance. My network is very important for what I do – and it’s not just my network, it’s my clients’ network too.

To manage time, I sometimes have Skype calls instead of face-to-face meetings. If you live outside the city and you are travelling in for an hour-long meeting, it turns into 3 hours of your time by the time you add on the commute.

Skype is not everyone’s cup of tea. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. But try suggesting it next time you meet someone. Say, “Why don’t we have a call on Skype next time?”. Slowly, they will become comfortable with it. And you’ll both get time back.

But be careful…

It might sound horrible, but pick and choose who you include in your network. Some people simply want to squeeze as much information from you as possible. They don’t give anything back. Keep this in mind as you meet people. You’ll learn who is out there to use you. Avoid learning the hard way like I did!

In summary…

Running your business is more enjoyable when you have a support network that you can learn from, gain support from and trust. Don’t struggle on your own. Access networking groups and follow up with people that you click with. Who knows? You might even find a ‘business best friend’, save lots of time and watch your business thrive.

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