Networking Top Tips from Reading East Athena, March 2014

March 10, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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Where better than to find top tips about networking than from a room full of business women who have already grown their businesses through networking?

We met with the members and visitors of the Reading East group in early March and asked them to offer their Top Tips for Successful Networking and this is the output.  Do feel free to add your own!

Reading East Top Tips for Successful Networking:

  • Be clear. Set an objective for your networking generally and for each meeting you attend.  Being clear about who you are and who you want to connect means you’re more likely to make it happen!
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up. Look for opportunities to connect or to help someone else and then follow it up as soon as you can.  This shows that you listen and are thinking about others. If someone offers you a connection, always follow it up or the potential referrer will think you don’t care!  And once you have received a referral, do keep the referrer informed so that they know you are looking after their contact.
  • Be proactive. Take the initiative and seek out opportunities.  By really listening to what people say, you’ll be proactive not pushy!
  • Be a good listener. Finding out about others and their businesses creates a connection and build relationships.  Relationships are the foundation of a strong, powerful network. Follow up one to one meetings are a great way to do this.
  • Be friendly. If you are feeling nervous or unsure, the chances are others are too.  Go and introduce yourself to break the ice and then invite others in to your conversation.
  • Be bold. If you loved a speaker’s presentation and have always wanted to connect with them, make a point of introducing yourself as soon as they have finished.  They’ll be on an adrenaline high and will be receptive to your positive approach.
  • Be the presenter. Look for opportunities to take on a role within your network.  Presenting or joining the committee elevates you and your business and provides more points of interest for you to discuss with you people in your network.
  • Be prepared. Find out who is going to a meeting and who is speaking.  Do some research on them before you go.  It feels wonderful when someone has already looked at your website or twitter page!
  • Give, give, give If you are a “giver”, you are much more likely to receive referrals as it demonstrates attentiveness, professionalism and generosity.
  • And if that lists sounds exhausting, just remember this and everything else will be OK:  Be yourself!

The Secret of How Much Time We “Should” Spend Networking

February 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | 2 Comments
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TimeHow much time should I spend networking?

This is a question we are regularly asked when we meet people and talk about their businesses.  In fact, it was a question I asked myself when I started up my own business in 2010.  I was so busy thinking about all the “work” I had to do, networking was another item on to the already burgeoning “to do” list that we each have as busy business women.

I knew I “should” be doing it so I started going along to various networking events.  As I walked away from each event, with a handful of business cards, I mentally crossed off “networking” on my “to do” list and moved on to do something else.

Those of you who know me will be aware of my views on the word “should”.  If ever I feel I “should” do something, loud alarm bells start ringing in my ears!  “Should” is a word of obligation rather than motivation and, as such, is one of the most energy-draining words I know.

It was, therefore, not much of a surprise that I neither enjoyed networking nor found it useful for my business.  And yet I was spending lots of time on it!  Does this sound familiar?

Get rid of the “should” in your networking

To change the way I was thinking about networking, I asked myself what I wanted from networking.  Think about all the things you are looking for from meeting people.  (Let’s presume that everyone wants to grow their business, so take that as a given.)

Do you enjoy listening to people? Does being with people give you energy? Do you get better ideas when you talk them through with someone? Do you like helping others? Do you work well as part of a team? Do you like being accountable to someone? Do you benefit from taking time away from your office?  Do you want to make new friends? Do you want to connect with businesses that compliment yours? Do you want to meet people in the same industry or profession as you? Do you want to learn new skills to help you run your business?

Once you are clear about WHAT you want from networking, you can look at how important those things are to you and your business.  This supports the prioritisation of the networking activities.

Finding the time

In The Athena Network, the networking is centred around creating relationships.  These relationships allow us to collaborate, inspire and learn.  It is through those relationships that we and our businesses grow.

But how much time does it take to create a strong relationship?

The truth is “it depends”.  Typically relationships develop with time and intensity.  Athena Meetings are designed to provide both time and intensity – working on personal and business development together.  So, by just attending a monthly meeting, your relationship with each person will grow but at a fairly slow rate.

But really great networking is SO much more than attending a meeting.  Here are some of the characteristics of our most successful networkers:

  • They are great listeners
  • They think about how they can help you BEFORE thinking about how you can help them
  • They are punctual and respectful of your time and commitments as well as their own
  • They are passionate about their businesses
  • They keep in touch when they’re NOT promoting something (as well as when they are)
  • They have a “go to” list of connections that they readily recommend to anyone
  • They have their eyes and ears open for opportunities for others, even when they are not “working”
  • They are seeking and are open to feedback about themselves and their businesses
  • They set bold goals for themselves and their businesses
  • They know there is always more to learn from others (irrespective of how long they’ve been doing it)
  • They are willing to share their expertise without expecting something in return
  • They are genuinely interested in other people and their businesses
  • They do what they say they’re going to do

This is what great networking looks like.

Here’s the SECRET

You “shouldn’t” spend ANY time networking.  Be yourself,  Love what you do, Respect others, Be interested, Listen.  The way you are with people says volumes about you and the way you do business even before you get to a meeting.

If effective networking is creating relationships and creating relationships is about who we are and how we treat others, perhaps the questions we can all ask ourselves is

“When I am not networking, what on earth am I doing?”

I’d love to hear your  views.

Stephanie

www.stephaniesmithcoaching.co.uk

What Successful Athena Members Have in Common, in 12 Words

December 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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success keyI read a great article on Forbes yesterday about how Paul B Brown, a prolific writer of books on Entrepreneurship is planning to deal with conversations about his work during the festive season:

“One of our guests is going to turn to me and say, “so, Paul, what books are you working on?””

“I’ll run through the entrepreneurship books as quickly as I can;  the person I am talking to will listen politely, and then they’ll say something like this.”

““You have been writing about entrepreneurs for a long time. Is there a commonality among the best ones?””

The article is short, well written and made me smile so do read it.  But if you don’t get a chance, his answer (in 12 words) is:

“Entrepreneurs have a passion for discovering opportunities. Once they do, they act.”

It started me thinking what our most successful members of The Athena Network have in common.

The single most important thing about being great at networking (and, I may say, at business generally) is being yourself.  We are not perfect so let’s not kid ourselves.  We are human and each of us bring something different to what we do, to the people we meet, to the world.  Individuality is a huge strength in life and in your network.  Clones we aint! So if we’re all individuals, perhaps their isn’t a common trait in the successful Athena Members.

However, when I think about the people who have gained the most business or connected with the most people or grown their business the most, some themes do emerge:

  1. They love what they do
  2. They are experts
  3. They stand out (clear about what makes them different)
  4. They are fully themselves, all the time, with anyone, in any situation
  5. They are open-minded
  6. They give time, referrals, connections readily and freely
  7. They have confidence in their work (even if they are not confident at speaking/meeting people)
  8. They ask for help
  9. They seek out collaboration
  10. They value and nurture their network

These members have seen real, measurable growth of their businesses as a result of their networking.  And it is not just the well-established business owners who can lay claim to this either.  Some of our members with relatively new businesses have reaped significant success by doing (and being) all the above.

So, how to summarise what successful Athena Network Members have in common, in just 12 words?  How about this:

“Athena Members trust themselves, love their work and value others”  

Ok, that’s 11 words – but, like I said, I’m not perfect either!  What would your 12 words be?

www.stephaniesmithcoaching.co.uk

This isn’t just a network, this is the Athena Network

October 30, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Posted in Articles, Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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timeTime is a valuable resource, often the most valuable as a business owner.

Just as you make sound business decisions when investing your money in a new piece of equipment, website or professional service, considering how to invest your time is just as important.

So, when networking is a significant element of your marketing strategy, how do you know that Athena is right for you and your business?

Be honest with yourself

What will make the biggest difference to you and your business?  Often people’s first response is “more customers”.  But, consider the question a little longer and most business owners acknowledge that, although it is important, it is just one dimension of successful business growth.

What else do you want? Training? Personal development? Constructive feedback on your products and services? Time to take a step back? Inspiration from other successful business owners?

Click here to see examples of articles that may be useful for you and your business.

Phone a friend

Speak to friends, family and colleagues.  Look at what people say online. Ask people in your LinkedIn network what they think.  There is a networking style and format to suit everyone so if people you know, like and trust are saying good things, it probably pays to listen to them!

Click here to see what some of our members are saying.

Success breeds success

Ideally, you want to be in a group with a whole range of businesses at different stages of growth.  You can be inspired by and learn from those who have already overcome the issues you are facing.  You can offer support and advice to those that are just starting out.  This way, you’ll be able to give as well as receive – a cornerstone of successful networking!

Our members often write great articles for our blog so do take a look and you’ll see that you’ll be in good company.

What’s included?

10 “home” meetings per year, where you are the “go to” person from your profession.
Unlimited access to Cappuccino Connections – our monthly informal networking morning.
Training on key business areas such as social networking, finance, time management, customer experience, branding etc.
Personal development to build confidence, communication skills, time management, sales techniques.
Support from like-minded business women.
Time away from the day to day operation of the business.
Energy and Inspiration, hearing about how others are growing and developing their businesses every month.

Click here to read more about the benefits of membership.

Try it!

Visiting takes half a day (preparation, travel and the meeting itself) and costs just £28.  Here you’ve got all the reasons we can think of for coming along.  But don’t just take our word for it.

Click here to find out about the meetings and book a visit.

October’s Networking Tip – Starting a conversation

October 1, 2013 at 6:00 am | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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PeopleTalkingIt’s a situation we’ve all faced.  We arrive at a networking event and it’s full of people we don’t know who are already busily engaged in conversation.  People look animated and interested.  We can hear people laughing. Suddenly it can feel like all our confidence has evaporated and we wonder what would happen if we just turned around and went home.

The truth is, you don’t have to be loud or funny or gregarious to network effectively.  You just have take a deep breath and be yourself.  And if you want a bit of a helping hand to join a conversation, here are some tips and conversation starters that we’ve found useful.

  1. Take your time. Spend a moment while you get a drink looking at the room and noticing people that you might like to meet.  You may notice other individuals who are on their own too.  Try “Hello, I don’t think I know anyone here, do you?”
  2. Join a group.  Pick a group that looks interesting, go over and stand next to one of them. Good networkers will turn towards you and open the conversation to bring you in.  If that doesn’t happen, don’t lose hope!  Either move on and find a different group for now or turn to the person nearest you in the group and say “Excuse me, may I join your conversation?”
  3. Smile! People will generally move around the room looking for more people to meet and groups to join.  As people pass you, make eye contact and smile.  This will encourage people to come and introduce themselves to you.  The same goes if you move around the room and want to know who to talk to next.
  4. Relax.  Sometimes networking can be tiring.  Give yourself a break every now and then by going to get some water or a coffee or stepping outside for a minute.  Gather your thoughts, breathe and then go back in feeling refreshed.

Once you’ve swapped names, here are some useful questions to get the conversation flowing. Remember, people will remember how you made them feel more than what you said or did!

  • Have you had to travel far today?
  • Who are you hoping to meet?
  • What’s your ideal client?
  • What would be your dream introduction?  And what would you do if you got it?
  • What could I do to help you?
  • What do you enjoy most about what you do?

And if you’ve got some favourite questions that you’ve asked or been asked, do add them!

Stephanie

http://www.stephaniesmithcoaching.co.uk

September’s Networking Tip – Dare to Dream!

September 1, 2013 at 6:00 am | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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dream-big-miniDo you ever have those moments where you think about your business and wonder…

“What would it be like if……”

And then, usually, we tell ourselves it’s ridiculous, a pipe-dream, like winning the lottery.  Perhaps we start thinking about how people would mock us for thinking about something so big, how they’d tell us we were crazy or getting too big for our boots – or worse, not tell us that but just THINK it about us – horrors!!

Well, what if you did hold on to that thought for a bit longer?  And what if you shared that thought with someone else – someone you trust, perhaps one of your networking connections?  And what if they didn’t laugh?  What if they agreed with you and perhaps even had some ideas about how it could work? What if it transformed from a dream in to a goal and from a goal in to reality?  YES!

Athena member Samantha Pilling of Biteme Bakery did just that.  She asked for an introduction to a celebrity who wanted a wedding cake designed.  A few months on and, “Ta da!”; her creation is gracing the pages of Hello magazine! Click here to see the results.

successSo, this tip is to dare to dream and, even more than that, tell someone about it.  A great network is there to support you and to believe in your dreams and hold you to them even if you doubt them every once in a while.

I’m looking forward to hearing some big dreams and exciting goals for the rest of the year!

By Stephanie Smith, Stephanie Smith Coaching

 

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:

Know:

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.

Like:

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.

Trust:

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

 

July’s Networking Tip – Active or Passive – Which Are You?

June 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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antFirst and most important principle of networking?

  1. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS!

As I describe in the post about Laurenne Dorgan – Phenomenal Business Through Athena but That’s Not All…. when I first started networking, I expected everything to happen instantly and for my business to grow just because I’d shown up and shaken a few hands. I was building relationships wasn’t I?  I was being nice, smiling, listening etc. So why wasn’t the business just rolling in? Thinking about it now, it’s embarrassing.  I’d done the easy bit but had failed to grasp the other principles of networking that would transform a “nice chat” in to something meaningful.

  • Give to others first and freely (ie not just when there’s something in it for you)
  • Be trustworthy (if you say you’ll do it, do it – no empty promises for the sake of saying something)
  • Invest in & nurture your network as a whole & your connections as individuals (it says more about how you do business than any promotional material)

In other words, I was being PASSIVE when I needed to be ACTIVE. So, what does that mean for your networking?  Take a look at these lists and see which category you fall in to….

PASSIVE NETWORKING:

  • You attend meetings if you can but if you get too busy you don’t worry about not showing up one month
  • You have a couple of people you’ll call to hotseat if you can’t make it but if they can’t do it, you stop looking
  • You prepare for the meeting on the morning you attend, and sometimes you don’t even do that
  • You rarely ask for one-to-one’s (121’s) and if you do accept someone else’s invitation you may cancel it at short notice or turn up late
  • You follow up with someone weeks after the meeting or possibly not at all – if they really wanted your business, they’d contact you….

ACTIVE NETWORKING:

  • You treat every networking meeting like a potential client pitch.  You showing up prepared and energised demonstrates how important your network is to you.
  • If you really can’t attend, your hotseater is well briefed, knows you and your business and does a great job to represent you and your brand.
  • You have prepared for the meeting several days in advance. Your call to action is clear and concise. You have studied the attendee list to see who will be there and how you might be able to help them.
  • You schedule between 1 and 3 121’s (or 122’s, 123’s) meetings every month because you know that, even if it’s not clear immediately, you may be able to help that person and they may be able to help you.
  • You follow up with every contact in a timely way and more than once if necessary. You know that the way you follow up outside the meeting shows others how you respect your potential customers and how you run your business.
  • You invite new people to visit your network to keep it energised and productive.  You know that this demonstrates your commitment to the group as a whole as well as to your individual contacts.
  • You’re always on the look out for people you can introduce to others in your network.

So, which are you?

By Stephanie Smith, Stephanie Smith Coaching

Thanks to Lisette Howlett from Sandler Training for her Athena Central London Blog Post which inspired this article.

June’s Networking Tip – Listen With Your Eyes!

May 31, 2013 at 8:35 am | Posted in Networking Tips | 1 Comment
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eyes

I was reading a blog this month about how Richard Branson networks.  Yes, he has presence, charisma and sharp mind, all of which are pretty compelling.  But what shone out above all that, was his ability to really listen to what the other person was saying.  He has the ability of giving someone his undivided attention even while lots of people wanted to catch his eye for an audience with him. The writer described it as “laser focus eye contact”.  That level of focus made the writer feel amazing – really listened to – and it made him realise that Branson’s success was due to more than some good ideas and a few shrewd business decisions.

In our Networking Strategy Training this month, we used some networking scenarios that we had experienced or heard about to start off conversations on how to deal with them.

One scenario that prompted great discussion was when people you meet appear to be looking over your shoulder whilst listening to you.  If it happens to you, it’s easy to feel that your fellow networker is waiting for “someone more interesting” to arrive.  In that situation we may, at best, disengage from the conversation and move on or, at worst, go home feeling shunned.

Strong eye contact does not have to mean your conversation is intense or serious, it can be fun and relaxed but it does show that you are interested in the person and what they are saying.  It increases the likelihood that you will remember their name, what they say and what they are looking for so that you can provide them with better connections.  And, perhaps best of all, it will make you memorable as someone who really listens.

We cite this quote a lot because it is one of the best reminders for us as we network and, in fact, as we live our lives – the quote from Maya Angelou:“People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

So ladies, use your eyes to listen and see what a difference it makes!

May’s Networking Tip – Spring Clean Your Networking!

May 2, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | 1 Comment
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Window-CleaningIt’s Springtime at last.  It’s a time of optimism and growth – in nature and in our businesses too.

So, what does that mean for your networking? If you did a “spring clean” of your networking, what would you keep and what would you change?

Do you visit the same meetings every month, saying  the same things to the same people, with the same results?  Urgh, that sounds unproductive! And guess what?  It’s not the fault of the meeting or the people, or the time of day, it’s because you’ve got stuck in a networking rut.

So what can you do to put a spring back in your networking?  There are plenty of networking meetings around Reading so why not pick out two or three that are new to you or you haven’t visited for a while and give them a try?  You’ll be surprised at how quickly your networking skills sharpen up AND you’ll meet new people, growing your network.

And to make it work even better, you can invite those new connections back to your regular networking events, bringing the great results of your spring clean to your network.  The MOST SUCCESSFUL business women in The Athena Network are those who keep their networking fresh and vibrant and who share that energy with everyone they meet.

Reading Networking Events to Try:

  • Business Biscotti – Reading North – 2nd Wednesday of the month, 10am-12noon, The Mill, Sonning
  • Business Biscotti – Reading Central – 1st Tuesday of the month, 7.30am-9am, QV Offices, Queen Victoria Street
  • First Friday Club – First Friday of the Month – various locations
  • Redingensians Rugby Business Networking Lunch – 7th June
  • Network your Business Berkshire – Facebook and some meetings
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