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How to make the most of networking

From making sure you’re in the right group to working out your 60 second pitch, Rin Hamburgh looks at what she’s learned about making the most of networking since she first started doing it seven years ago.

Networking is something every business owner or self-employed person is likely to do at some point. And rightly so – it’s a great way to meet people, to get support and generate referrals and new business. But it can also take up a fair amount of time and money. So how do you make sure you’re getting the most value out of it?

 

Pick the right group

I started networking when I set up my first business in 2012. The first group I joined was a very supportive group of women who met monthly for lunch. This was exactly what I needed – non-threatening, encouraging, no suits and lots of self-employed people working as sole traders.

As I gained in confidence I started going to a fortnightly breakfast meeting where there were business owners – both men and women – with staff and budgets who were able to introduce me into bigger companies and help me grow.

When the twins arrived, these groups became either too expensive or difficult to get to. Freelance Mum was – and still is – an absolute godsend and I’ve now added BS5 Business, Babies and Booze to my networking mix because, well, doesn’t that just sound like the best idea?

The key is to choose groups that work for you in terms of cost, location, mix of people and so on. Ask yourself what you want to gain from it. Do you want to get support from other business owners like you? Or are you looking for introductions, in which case you need to check how well connected the other members are.

 

Bring the right marketing materials

A business card is an absolute must for networking (although I have to admit, I frequently forget mine!). This is especially important if you’ve got an unusual name that people might struggle to remember or might spell wrong and therefore not be able to look you up.

But you might also want to invest in flyers, brochures or other printed materials in order to give people you meet an instant insight into what you do. For a product based or visual business like photography, pictures really can be worth a thousand words.

And I love the 121 packs that my friends at Hullo Creative make; little folders containing a flyer, a logo sticker, one of their beautiful greetings cards, and a selection of business cards from other freelancers in their collective.

 

 

 

 

Prepare a pitch

Most networking groups will require you to do some sort of 60 second ‘elevator pitch’ where you tell people who you are, what you do and what you’re looking for. Even at Freelance Mum, which has a much more relaxed format, there’s an opportunity to introduce yourself during the Business Exchange segment at the end.

There are lots of different ways to structure a pitch. I’m currently on the Natwest Accelerator Programme and regularly have to pitch during our workshop and other events. The structure we’ve been taught there is Hook, Problem, Solution, Traction, Ask – there’s more about that in our blog post, How to write a 60 second elevator pitch.

But essentially you want to make sure that you summarise not only what you do but what that actually means for your customers or clients. For example, I don’t just say that we do copywriting. Instead I say that we “harness the power of words to drive significant business results.”

Spend time really honing your pitch and get comfortable with delivering it – make your other half listen to you or practice in the mirror. Because, whether you’re at a networking group or not, you never know when someone important is going to ask what you do. The right words might open the door to your next big thing.

 

Remember to ‘sell through the room’

Once you arrive at your chosen networking group, it might be tempting to try and sell your products and services to as many people as possible. But let’s face it, no one likes a pushy salesperson, do they?

Remember that networking is a long game – it’s about building relationships, letting people get to know you and starting to understand what their challenges and needs are too. It may be that your product or service is right for them but let that emerge naturally.

In fact, if you just sold to people within your group you really wouldn’t be making the most of your network. The trick is to ’sell through the room, not to the room’ – in other words, build those networking contacts into advocates who can speak about you to their networks and thereby widen your reach.

As an example, the lovely Zoe Whitman of But The Books, who I met at Freelance Mum, passed my details to her husband, who works at a big marketing agency. We ended up doing huge amounts of work with them, opening up a whole new market for us.

 

Remember to follow up

The majority of the value you’ll get from networking won’t actually happen in the meeting itself but afterwards. That’s why it’s important to follow up. If you’ve taken business cards, connect with those people on LinkedIn, follow their account on Instagram or like their business page on Facebook.

You may have identified people who you think will be a good fit for you, perhaps because you have complimentary businesses with the same target audience. For me as a copywriter this may be a graphic designer, web designer, even photographer. In this case, arrange a 121 so you can get to know each other better.

A lot of networking groups have online groups too, for example Freelance Mum’s Facebook group, The Mothership. Being active on these channels is an excellent way to keep in touch with people, especially if your group only meets monthly or if you struggle to make every meeting.

If you’re going to spend time and money on networking then make sure you get as much out of it as you can. That might take a little bit more time or money – for example to write that pitch or get flyers printed – but the return on your investment will make it well worth the effort.

If you want to brush up on your networking skills in a warm, family friendly environment, why not come along to Freelance Mum? Your first meeting is free! Find out when the next event is here.

What to look for in a workshop venue

Rin Hamburgh looks at the importance of finding the right setting when it comes to booking a workshop venue and some of the considerations for getting it right.

What to look for in a workshop venue

Where do you usually work? As a freelance mum, the chances are the your “office” is a dining room table, a patch of kitchen work surface, a lap tray on the sofa or even the front passenger seat of your car (just me??!).

Maybe you’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated study or even rent some space in a studio or co-working location so your desk doesn’t get cluttered with utility bills and Year 8 homework. But if your job involves running workshops then it’s unlikely you’ve got enough space. Which means you’re on the look out for the perfect venue.

So what makes the ideal workshop venue? Obviously we’re all going to have different requirements to suit our personal style and the type of event we’re running. But these are some of the factors you should be thinking about.

 Size

How many people are you expecting at your workshop? You want to make sure there’s plenty of room for all the activities you’re planning, especially if you’re going to have lots of resources or need people to break out into separate groups. But too big is no good either – you want to get a balance so that the room feels cosy and intimate and encourages good group dynamics.

Location

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to location. You might want a city centre venue that’s easy to reach by public transport or a beautiful countryside space that helps people feel like they’re escaping the rat race for a few hours. Think about what your attendees will be looking for. Is there parking available on site or nearby? Is the venue easy to find or will you need to provide detailed instructions?

 Amenities

The basics of good heating, lighting and bathroom facilities should come as standard but what else might you need? A data projector and blank wall or whiteboard are often useful, or even an interactive whiteboard. If you’re going to be relying heavily on internet-based resources then it’s worth checking that there’s strong, reliable wifi. Depending on the length of your workshop you’ll want to provide refreshments – even if it is just tea and biscuits – so are there facilities for making these?

Cost

Everyone wants a freebie, right? Well, possibly. If you can secure your ideal venue with no cost attached then brilliant. But don’t be tempted to scrimp on the quality of a venue in order to save a few pounds. No one is going to recommend your workshop if they spend the morning freezing in a badly heated venue or couldn’t concentrate because of the bad smell drifting in from the fish shop next door!

Atmosphere

This one is a bit harder to define and almost impossible to judge without a site visit. No matter how good a venue looks on paper, it’s only when you visit that you get a sense of the people running the place, of whether the quality matches the photos you’ve seen and so on. The right atmosphere is only partly made by you and your attendees – the venue has a part to play too.

Getting the venue right can be the difference between your workshop running smoothly and being a mess of intermittent internet, bad coffee and cramped conditions. Put in the time to do your research now and you won’t regret it when you’re getting glowing feedback from all your happy attendees.

 

 

Networking with Freelance Mum

 “It’s given me opportunity to take Mariella with me, every one accepts me and no body judges”

Fellow freelance mum, Michaela Deasy-Smith features in this podcast about Networking with Freelance Mum.

Read more