Finding the Time to Train Increases Your ROI!

July 26, 2013 at 6:53 am | Posted in Member Stories | Leave a comment

Joining a networking group is an investment.  You invest your time, your energy and your money.  So what do you expect in return?

At The Athena Network, you meet other, like-minded business women; you get the opportunity to make connections that will help you and your business to grow; you will be surrounded by individuals who will inspire and support you AND you receive training and development to strengthen your business and your networking skills.  That’s a pretty compelling Return on Investment, however you look at it!

In June, we ran our regular half-day Networking Strategy Training session, available FREE for all members.  We’ve known this was good stuff right from the get-go and yet sometimes it can be hard to prioritise the time to take advantage of these opportunities available to you.

So, we asked Debbie Atkins of DA Fitness and Antonia Taylor from Antonia Taylor PR, two new members who attended that session to tell us what they thought.

Debbie AntoniaDA: A client and friend of mine introduced me to Athena.  I came along in April 2013 and joined immediately!  I had no previous networking experience but had been wary of breakfast/coffee morning/luncheons as appeared to be all about “selling” so my expectations of the training was to find out more about Athena and how to promote my business in a natural way without the hard sell.

AT: Similarly, I had done zero formal networking!  I’ve never seen myself as a networker and pretty much relied on word of mouth and personal recommendation.  I felt my business needed more focus and direction and I was looking for a supportive environment to enable this – setting up on your own can be quite isolating so having that core network is vital.  My intention was also to invest in building more relationships locally as part of this, to build up own referral network.  Within a month of joining, I have established some great connections, learnt so much about running a business through 121s and opened up to a host of new personal experiences too. I don’t like to have regrets but I do wish I’d joined up sooner.

What was the key thing you took from the training?

DA: I formed stronger relationships with other Reading members and it was great to meet others too.  I am a lot clearer as to why the monthly minute “Call to Action” is so important and how others perceive me when I speak.  Even though I’m from a Finance background, I’m aware the Business Planning/Strategy side of the business sometimes gets overlooked when I’m busy… has made me think of revisiting my “old” business plan and putting new objectives and strategies in place.

AT: I had expected the NST to be interesting and informative – not quite as full-on and interactive as it was. Be prepared to invest a lot of yourself in the session! The main thing I took from it was the pivotal role of planning when you network – it’s key to take a step back and map out your strategy otherwise it becomes networking for networking’s sake.  Also, having the opportunity to develop and shape my minute, with honest, constructive feedback from my Athena associates was really useful.

How did you make time for the training?

DA: I understand the importance of training and taking time to consider where your business is going, so it was easy to justify.  I did have to move clients because of the training but because it was a one-off I was able to do so.

Making time for yourself and your business is very important.  It helps confirm why you have joined Athena and shows you to get the most out of your membership.  You don’t know who you will meet on the course!  Learning is fun and the course was fun as well as being very good.

AT: Business owners are often reluctant to invest in training for themselves – I can’t honestly remember the last time I received any training.  An Athena associate suggested that I should build my own benefits package into my business plan and networking and training becomes part of this.  It’s not about being away from the office for a few hours but the long-term view.  The training has made me a stronger networker and in time, I am confident I’ll see the ROI.

The session really got my membership off to a positive start – it also helped me get to know other group members better in a more intimate, relaxed setting. It gives you the space to take a step back and reflect on what you want to get out of your membership. Three hours well-spent and I will be requesting a refresher course next year!

And what would you say to people considering joining Athena?

DA: The Reading Central group have all made me feel so welcome.  When I said to friends what I was doing some were quite negative about networking and asked “aren’t there are other ways of networking that cost a lot less?”….I am glad I listened to them but very pleased I trusted my instincts and came along.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first meeting and felt that I had found a group that were friendly and willing to help support each other.  The other members are interested in you and your business.  Building relationships and looking after others is how my business has evolved over the years and this is what Athena is about.

The business training is an added bonus, it was not why I joined but has been extremely valuable.  I have found two people to bring along to my group in the last two months and both have been very impressed with the meeting.  One is already using the services of a current member and will probably join in the coming months and the other was “blown away by the whole experience”….great feedback.

AT: Just do it.  For me this isn’t about new business so much as fostering meaningful connections that will help my business grow organically.  It’s about meeting likeminded and positive women you can learn from and hopefully share your own learnings with too.

Debbie runs her fitness business from her “outside office” offering Personal Training and Nordic Walking to groups and individuals.

Antonia runs her own PR firm, working with businesses who want to develop their relationships with their customers, suppliers and the public at large!


August’s Networking Tip – Building Trust = Building Your Business

July 24, 2013 at 11:08 am | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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trust handsIt probably won’t surprise you to know that M&S and John Lewis are the two most trusted brands in the UK according to a poll by Lansons and Opinium Research.

So what?

Trust means consistency, reliability, professionalism, quality, value and reputation.  All words that we would like to be associated with our own businesses.  With trust comes that “money-can’t-buy” competitive edge that is REFERRAL.

When someone is prepared to put their reputation on the line by recommending your business to one of their valuable connections in a referral, they are demonstrating high levels of trust in you as a person and in your business.

It is unrealistic to be able to use the services or buy products from everyone in our networks and vice versa. So, how can you support others to develop trust in your business when you network?

Consider the Know, Like, Trust Factor:


Get to know your connections.  Not just their businesses, products or services but the individuals, their motivations, what sets them apart from others.  The more you get to know them, the more they will get to know you.

This is where 1-2-1’s, follow-ups and a bit of research on Linked In goes a long way.


This is not necessarily about being friends, although it can be!  As you get to know more about your connections, you are likely to find areas of common interest, either professionally or personally. This could be because your businesses work with similar markets, or represent the same values or even because you both play netball.  When you find that common element, you will deepen your business relationship.

This means that you will be  in each others thoughts more often, you may share ideas or answer calls to action by connecting them with others.


This is the point where someone can, with full confidence, refer you to one of their connections, even if they have not used your services or bought one of your products.  They know enough about who you are and how you operate to TRUST you with their hard-earned, well-nurtured network.

This happens when someone sees that everything you do and say is consistent.  That your values (the way you are and the way you do business) closely match their own.  This is when people will go and actively seek opportunities on your behalf, taking a call to action and making it bigger and better than you could have imagined.

And guess what? You can’t force this bit!

So, when you are out networking, consider these questions: “What am I doing to help others trust me?”

What am I doing to…….

  • Get to know people and their businesses?
  • Find out things that we have in common?
  • Understand calls to action?
  • Respond to calls to action?
  • Demonstrate my consistency, reliability, professionalism, quality, value and reputation?

And if you’re not sure, try something new and see what a difference it makes!

By Stephanie Smith, Stephanie Smith Coaching


Taking Your Laptop To The Beach? A VA Can Help…..

July 1, 2013 at 9:18 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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??????????????????????As we approach holiday time many of us are thinking about taking some time to relax and recuperate after many months of hard work (and not to mention grey skies!).  However, how many of you feel a slight wave of panic when you think about keeping your business going when you’re away?  Check voicemails & emails once/day? Check texts twice/day?

And when we get back, what are we faced with? Big bills for our data usage and/or a huge inbox demanding attention.  Somehow all the positive effects of the holiday disappear in a matter of hours.

So, we’ve asked our VA members, Isabel Roy of Cherry Services and JillMcLachlan of JMVA to share their top tips for a calm holiday and a relaxed return to work.

  1. Clear any outstanding emails in your inbox before you go.  This will ensure nothing is outstanding and all pending emails are flagged for your return
  2. Handover to a VA or Business Partner.  Provide the full client status of any current work and any office administration tasks.  Always leave a full list  or database of contact numbers for yourself, clients and suppliers.
  3. Check and clear diary of any due meetings, reminders, actions or papers and push back until return or ask your VA to deal with it while you are away.
  4. Change your voicemail detailing alternative contact details for your VA.
  5. Leave for the airport with a clear and organised mind  knowing that either your business is being well looked after by your VA and that you have covered all “bases” for while you are away!

Don’t have a VA??  VA services start at a very reasonable rate and you can use as much or as little as you need.  So put a VA on your Holiday List and make the most of your time off this year.

Thanks to Isabel and Jill.

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