Networking doesn’t have to feel icky.

I’ve worked in sales for more for almost 8 years now, and so some people are surprised when I say I’ve never particularly enjoyed the whole networking thing.

As I was explaining to Martin Knapp the Regional Leader of a networking group I recently visited (click the link for an accompany ‘networking doesn’t have to be icky’ video that I posted right afterwards, and actually spurned the idea for this article), I love 1-to-1 conversations. I always have. I just love talking to people and am innately curious. I enjoy finding common ground just as much as I like finding out new things and gaining different perspectives. I enjoy connecting with others, as cheesy as that might sound.

I think my being an introvert has something to do with this preference for depth and more meaningful 1-to-1 interactions. I don’t mind small groups either (3 or 4), but larger groups get more tricky and less pleasant, especially those unknown ones where I’m in an unfamiliar environment and don’t know anyone. At these, you’ll find me scouting the area out, sticking to the edges of the room and hoping to find a kindred spirit who’s also trying to deal with the precariousness of the situation.

It’s a bit different, though, when you’re invited along to something by someone you know, and when you can go along as you and representing your business and brand (to me, our brand is really just as being our human, unique, nuanced selves - all whilst demonstrating how useful and helpful we can be to solve the particular problem we are involved with). The networking event I mentioned earlier was 4Networking, and it was a breakfast meeting in Epsom, Surrey. It was a small and diverse bunch, just 8 or 9 in total, and they were warm, welcoming and, well, just human. No daunting corporate spiel or men in suits who I felt out of place amongst (I’ve never particularly enjoyed wearing a suit for work, I’m not sure why. Smart-casual trousers with a shirt and blazer is more my vibe, or better yet just jeans, trainers and t-shirt).

At the breakfast in question, held at the Kingswood Country & Golf Club, it helped that I got to talk to half of the room, individually, beforehand whilst everyone was mingling before the event started. During the course of the morning, through this prior mingling, eating breakfast and the 3 1-to-1 sessions that take place in the course of the morning, I had spoken to everyone but 2 of the attendees.

Business is driven by sales, and sales is driven by relationships. More specifically, in-person relationships; or, at the very least, relationships built over the phone or, these days, video call. There is still no replacement for in-person meetings though, and these are what groups like 4Networking and BNI facilitate. (I’m off to my first BNI meeting this Wednesday, so I’ll be interested to see how that goes).

Networking events, done well, can be really, really good. Here’s what I liked about the one I went to:

1. Warm and relaxing
I was made to feel at home, and included as soon as I got there. There was a brief moment before breakfast started when I was standing around on my own with my tea, but someone was there to come and say “hi”.

2. The 1-to-1 sessions
The format of 4Networking events mean that, after breakfast and the ‘foresight’ presentation which is carried out by one of the members in attendance (designed to be interesting and informative, and not salesy), you mutually choose 3 other members there who you are interested in sitting down 1-on-1 with, to discuss with one another what you both do. Sure, you don’t necessarily know who’s going to turn up on the day and, of course, once you’re a ‘regular’ you’re bound to sit down with the same person twice, but this is exactly how relationships are built… over time, as trust and familiarity develop. And 1-to-1 relationships like this suit this introvert - and many of us, in fact, whether we identify as introverts or not.

3. The Regional Leader was there
A chap originally from Seattle in the PNW region of the States, Martin was a lovely, down-to-earth guy who got involved, just like everyone else. Everyone involved in running 4Networking’s sessions all over the country does so in a ‘volunteer’ capacity, and I was impressed that the Regional Leader made the effort to be there - especially given the fact that he’d driven all the way round the M25 to get here from the other side of London!

4. Breakfast
This was decent, and at £15 for breakfast - and the event itself - I feel this represented good value. Membership options also look pretty reasonable and, as I have heard from others who have been part of these groups before, it’s consistently turning up which eventually leads to relationships being formed and ‘tangible’ results (in the form of business/sales).

5. Following-up...
I always follow-up by email on the same-day or next, and I even managed to arrange a sit-down with someone I met there, happening tomorrow in fact. A lovely meeting to have after this Bank Holiday weekend, which I’m looking forward to before I head into London for a couple of other meetings. (I head to Tenerife to work from NineCoLiving for a month from April 29th, and so I’m trying to maximise my in-person meets this week).

credit:  Cozendo

credit: Cozendo

All in all, I realise how valuable groups like this can be - as much as the term ‘networking group’ didn’t really sit well with me. Relationships never form overnight, but the power of a close-knit group like this, and tight cross 1-on-1 relationships between group members, can be very powerful indeed.

As crucial as an online presence is, in the form of content marketing and SEO, you’re missing a trick if you’re not also making some time for old-school, real-life relationships. It feels strange to even refer to as physical interactions as old-school… it’s just human!

Whilst I’ll be working from abroad in May, and possibly into June (I may be heading to Portugal to celebrate my birthday with friends), it is looking likely that I’ll be signing up as a member. With membership, I’ll be able to attend any local group that I want to, anytime and with no limit. It is my intention to visit several local to me and in central London, before committing to one that I attend regularly, and perhaps continuing to dabble in other groups here and there. Each local group meets fortnightly, which also feels more manageable versus a meeting every week.

As someone who advocates building long-term relationships over time, honestly and authentically, a commitment to in-person networking would enable me to do that for myself and Honest Content. I imagine I’ll start to form some close relationships, over time, which I’ll find nourishing - running a business can be a lonely pursuit, and whilst I am a big fan of online forums and communities, you just can’t replace that in-person vibe.

Networking, facilitated well, can be really quite powerful.

More reading:
Communities: There’s Magic in Them, a piece I wrote almost exactly 3 years ago
Forget Networking, Start Kindworking, by the Happy Startup School

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 20.18.42.png

Any questions?
I love questions. And I really love this stuff; I’ve spent over 7 years selling B2B & B2C, and over 4 years writing content.

Also, if you like what you’re reading and you’re a one-(wo)man-band or small business, you might wanna grab a free copy of the Guide I’ve put together 👉🏽 Honest Marketing for Small Businesses.

✉️ email me:
📩 DM me: @jashothimedia

👀 Read more articles

🎙️ PS. The Honest Content Show arrives on Thursday! Keep an eye on my Instagram page, or else subscribe to the newsletter to ensure that you don’t miss it, ever.