I was completely unaware of the concept of business networking before I became self employed. I soon became aware that networking was essential to establish contacts.
First of all I had to find a group that I got the right vibe from, where a rapport can be established with at least some of the group straightaway and there is some synergy and interest between various professions and in the right group some can become friends as well as business associates.
It is very rare that you will get business immediately from a group as they have to learn to trust you and you have to show commitment as well but it does help if you are made welcome and that you like the members within the group. If you immediately feel uncomfortable, don’t give up networking, join another group until you find one that suits you. You can normally go twice as a visitor before committing to a group so this gives you an idea if it will work for you, different groups work for different people
I found that another benefit of networking groups is that it helped me with public speaking, business skills and to have the confidence and belief in running my own business
In my five years of networking I have met some very interesting and talented people in all walks of life.
Once you get established in the world of business networking you quickly learn of other opportunities as most of us belong to more than one group
I started off by googling and joined West London Business Network in Ealing and I liked this group which meets once a month at Drayton Arms but it wasn’t easy for me to get there. From this I was introduced to Trevor, a business coach who helped me tremendously in my early days. Another member was Brenda of ACN who introduced me to BNI, probably the most well known and most successful worldwide business networking group. They meet weekly at 7am which is not for everybody but now they have introduced lunches as well. I have a few lasting relationships and customers with BNI members. I was quite unlucky that the group I was comfortable with dwindled in numbers and became unviable. BNI only have one of each profession in each group and a group of 20-25 is healthy. Too many, becomes noisy and chaotic, too few means no business passed round the table. BNI has some really useful business courses and because it is costly it is wise to take advantage of these. It is a very formal group, regular referrals are expected and you must provide a substitute if you cannot attend. I did find these commitments very difficult to maintain week in and week out but the right BNI group can prove very fruitful indeed and most people find that the £1000 a year roughly does pay off.
The group I was happiest with was The Athena Network, a womens’ lunch group which meets once a month. I started off with the Chiswick group and shifted to Hammersmith, a small but very successful group. I have kept a few friends and customers from Athena Hammersmith and I wait with anticipation for this group to relaunch as we have a good core group interesting in rebonding and introducing new members. I did try to join other Athena groups but they just didn’t feel right or I wasn’t welcome. Athens has just about doubled in costs over the past few years so it is important to be in the right group. Visitor cost for Athena is £28 including sit down lunch although this may vary according to venue. The current yearly fee is £235
WIBN – Women in Business Network has recently expanded across London and as they now have one in Kensington I will join them next week and hope this will be the start of an exciting new venture. Visitor cost is £24 including a sit down lunch. The yearly fee is £240 including VAT
I attend open networking groups as well. Your local chamber is a good one. Some restrict where you live or work but some don’t. These vary considerably in cost. I belong to Hounslow Chamber which is excellent value at around £80 a year and I believe one of the best. They arrange many regular functions and meetings for little or no cost. The Best of …. are also worth attending and I have established some useful contacts. Although open networking is generally cheaper, you don’t develop the same level of relationship and trust that you do in regular and more formal networking groups so therefore it doesn’t normally generate business unless you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time
Business Junction are another organisation who are spreading across London. They have regular lunches at least once a week and I have tried a few of these but at almost £40 including VAT for a buffet lunch I do these very sparingly, but if you join and pay the yearly fee of £360, the fee reduces to £24 incl VAT. I am going to try a newer one called Urbano which is similar and a slightly more modest try out fee of £30 incl VAT for non members, and I will let you know how I get on. The membership fee is also £360 a year
Real Coaching – Business Building Breakfast with Carole Ann Rice and Susan Tomlinson helps you to increase your profit over breakfast and establish contacts at the same time. The Training Pack – Business Dinner Club usually in Ealing organised by Glenda Shawley, good value at £30 plus VAT for a 3 course dinner with prosecco. Both of these have been very useful
Many of the coffee mornings, lunches and dinners I go to have been spin offs from other groups like Athena and BNI, these include Coffee with Jo in Ealing, excellent value at £5 including a coffee
I hope that I have pointed you in the right direction and that you too will find a profitable and comfortable networking group in your area. I have just found this link Find Networking Events which I hope will take some of the hard work out of finding a local group