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!

Polish Up Your Networking Strategy for FREE!

March 2, 2014 at 6:58 am | Posted in Athena Events | Leave a comment
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TrainingDo you want to make sure that the time, energy and money that you are investing in your networking is going to get you the results you want?

Whether you are new to networking or have been networking for years, taking some time to review your strategy and freshen up your Monthly Minute will help you get more from your networking.  And, as an Athena Member, this training is all included in your membership!

On March 18th, Athena Reading will be holding the next session of Networking Strategy Training.  And it’s FREE for all our members! From 9.30am to 12.30pm at Bills Restaurant, we’ll be running through the key elements of your networking strategy and, if it works for you, you’d are welcome to stay on for lunch.

During the morning we’ll work through:

  • What IS networking?
  • What is our impact when we network?
  • Networking etiquette
  • How to enter and leave conversations

and the very popular

  • Knock out Monthly Minutes!

As you would expect from Athena Reading, this is going to be you “doing” it rather than someone else “telling” so come prepared to give it a go in a relaxed and friendly environment.

To book your place, enquire about visiting a meeting or to find out about joining Athena Reading, email Jill today!

Don’t Stay Stuck! How to Make Powerful Choices

March 2, 2014 at 6:42 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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Woman-ThinkingHave you ever felt stuck?  You know, that feeling where you can’t or don’t know how to change something in your life?  It might be something about your businesses, something to free up more time or generate more money or even something that you know will make you happier!

Feeling “stuck” is not pleasant.  It’s uncomfortable, smothering, claustrophobic even.  Sometimes we confuse being “stuck” with feeling secure.  Do you find yourself saying “I have a business/family/house, I should be happy”? Notice the “should”?  That’s a red flag word. 

So, if you want to get un-stuck, here are four steps to reclaim the decision making for your life and to make your choices more powerful.

1. Acknowledge you DO have choices.

Thinking about, writing down or speaking about choices does NOT mean you are making that choice.  We too often shut down the possibilities available to us because we fear that thinking about them will cause trouble:

We catastrophise: I don’t dare to think about working away from home because I my children will suffer, fail at school and start taking drugs.
We molly coddle:  I don’t dare to think about having a business that I love which pays me a great salary because I might be disappointed.
We presume: I don’t dare think about investing in my business because my partner/friends/parents will think I’m being irresponsible.

These are all excuses. Allow yourself to imagine, to think, to create.  Sometimes the most enlightening ideas come from a seemingly “impossible” choice.

2. Recognise HOW you make choices.

Typically we either Think, Feel or Know when we make choices.

Thinkers lead with logic, practicality and facts.

Feelers will often ask others opinions, be led by emotions, will create stories or images about the potential outcomes.

Knowers will decide fairly quickly and independently, without always being able to explain why they’ve made that choice.

Naturally, we don’t use just one of these approaches.  In fact, it is really powerful to harness all three.  To recognise how you make choices, think back to the best decision you’ve ever made.  What brought you to that decision?

Having trouble making a decision? Perhaps you’re ignoring what your lead factor is telling you?  For instance, we often turn to our Think factor if our instinct (Know) is saying something scary!

3. Make POWERFUL choices

Our values are a core part of who we are and what makes us happy.  When faced with a choice, your values will make the answers much clearer and simpler.  Your choice will either be true to one or more of your values or will ignore them/go against them.

If you’re not sure of your values, answer this “Success in my life means…….” and then for each part of your response follow up with “Which means that….” until you get to the source of what is most important to you.

NB this will not be money or time.  Dig past that to get to the real stuff.

4. Choice = change

Change is inevitable.  Even if you stay as still as you can, everything around you is changing all the time.  And you can’t control it all, no matter how hard you try.  Every choice comes with a risk.  The “what if….” factor.  And that’s OK.  Don’t be afraid of the “What if”.  Just as in point 1. thinking about it doesn’t make it happen.  Work it through.  Think about what you would do “if” your choice didn’t work out the way you wanted it to.  What could you do now to mitigate it or minimise the impact?

And if, after all that, you don’t change anything, that’s OK too.  Choosing NOT to do something is still a choice and by making that choice, you have started a change in and around you.

My favourite saying when I’m deliberating choices is “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” from Susan Jeffers book of the same name.  I’ve never read the book.  For me, the title is enough to jolt me out of my procrastination.

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.


FREE WINE AND CHOCOLATE! (well, sort of)

February 3, 2014 at 9:53 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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Wine-Lovers-IndulgenceOK, I may have exaggerated about the free wine and chocolate but it would probably take a headline like that to make me even look at an article about my personal finances.

According to the adverts, “Tax doesn’t have to be taxing” and yet so many of us (me included) find it either confusing, frightening or just plain uninteresting.

Fortunately, that’s where Financial Advisors can help.   Tax is what tickles their fancy. Pensions are their passion.  So the Financial Avoiders among us can get a helping hand or a polite prod to make sure that we are making the most of our money.

As the end of the tax year approaches Reading East member, Josephine Blythe (, offers us her Action Points, designed to help you make the most of your our tax allowances within the next few weeks.  Who knows, once you’ve completed one of the actions, perhaps you could treat yourself with some of that wine and chocolate!

  1. ISAs – you have until 5th April to shelter £11,520 in a tax efficient ISA wrapper
  2. Junior ISAs – you have until 5th April to shelter £3,720 in a tax efficient JISA for a child under 16 and now Child Trust Funds can be transferred to JISAs
  3. Pensions – you have until 5th April to make lump sum contributions of up to £50,000 to your pension plans on which you will receive tax relief – this will have the effect of reducing your tax bill and may gain you back your Personal Allowance and Child Benefit. The allowance drops to £40,000 for next tax year
  4. Inheritance tax saving – you have until 5Th April to make exempt gifts to reduce Inheritance Tax
  5. Corporation Tax Relief – If you are a business owner with a year end of 31st March you have until then to reduce your Corporation Tax Bill by making a pension contribution should this be appropriate for you
  6. Lifetime Allowance – you have until 5th April to safeguard pension pots from a tax bill if they will be more than £1.25million

For more information, do contact Jo or the Financial Advisor in your own group.

The value of an investment in St. James’s Place will be directly linked to the performance of the funds selected and may fall as well as rise. You may get back less than the amount invested.

The levels and bases of taxation and reliefs from taxation can change at any time and is generally dependent on individual circumstances.

Josephine Blythe represents only St. James’s Place Wealth Management plc (which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority) for the purpose of advising solely on the Group’s wealth management products and services, more details of which are set out on the Group’s website at

Do You Have A Book Inside You?

January 6, 2014 at 10:18 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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To publish or not to publish!

Whether you’ve got a vague thought about writing a book, a bunch of files or notebooks filled with notes or a full set of chapter titles, you may be wondering what it takes to actually get your ideas in to print.

Well, as an Athena Member, you are surrounded by some wonderful resources who have already ventured down that road and committed their stories to paper.  Take a look at some of our published authors – maybe you could take a leaf out of their book (ho ho) as I’m sure they’d be happy to share their journeys with you!

Grainne Ridge – Difficult Customers

difficult customers

Lynne Copp – Dancing Round the Handbags

Dancing round the handbags

Katie Waistell – How to Leave a Bully

How to leave a bully

Niki Schafer – Creating Space

creating space

Vanessa Stottor – Butterfly Whispers

butterfly whispers

Photographing Calcutta – Tina Cleary’s Impossible Trip

January 6, 2014 at 10:14 am | Posted in Member Stories | Leave a comment
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Making the Impossible Possible!

As some of you know, Tina Cleary (Reading South) embarked upon a fund-raising trip to Calcutta in November. Here we can see some of the photographs from her time there as well as an extract from her diary which just shows how others can surprise us with their faith and generosity and how we can achieve so much when we put our minds to it.

Friday 8th November 2013 – The adventure begins

One month ago I sat in a cafe, in Peckham, with a photographer friend who mentioned he has one space left on his street photography course in Calcutta, India.  The course raises money for the Hope Foundation (helping the street and slum children of Calcutta who live in the most terrible conditions and are exposed to every risk imaginable.)

I had wanted to visit India for a while and am always looking to be inspired with my photography.  I have admired Mark’s work with the Hope Foundation for a while.  This trip would be an experience of a lifetime but as I have a young family and we are saving to visit my brother in New Zealand I did not think it would be a possibility for me in the near future.

Mark explained how safe he felt when he was there and that I could probably fundraise to help pay the donation to the Hope Foundation.  Once I heard these two things I realised this could be a possibility and this trip ticked all the boxes.  I could help people and improve myself as a person and a photographer and of course I get to visit India.

My family were so supportive during the month, helping me with all the plans and fund raising. My youngest daughter even agreed to do a charity 6 mile bike ride. They made me feel so proud.  It was wonderful how kind people could be, helping me raise money for a good cause (including my Athena group who offered donations in return for head-shots). I also found out just how physically tiring it is to fundraise whilst having a full time job and raising a family.

After a month of organising flight bookings, immunisations and rearranging my work & home calendars so that the family continued smoothly while I was away, a very tired and emotional me said good bye to my family.  My husband took me to Gatwick airport where I met Marcia And Stuart (two other photographers) and we all got to know each other a little before our flight to Dubai, then off to Calcutta..

Want to know more?  Here are some of the stunning photographs from Tina’s trip or get in touch with Tina or the Hope Foundation to find out what happened next.

_MG_2350 _MG_1143 _MG_1066 _MG_1008 _MG_0644 _MG_0523 _MG_0263

Tina Cleary


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?

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.

What’s all the fuss about?

October 30, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Posted in Member Stories | Leave a comment
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multitaskingHave you heard the phrase “networking is a marathon, not a sprint” ?

It’s true that effective networking can take time, as you build strong relationships and get to know people in your network.  So, you want to make sure that you get as much benefit as possible from your networking time.    You get so much more than networking as an Athena member but don’t just take our word for it, here’s what our members have to say:


“When I first joined Athena I was unsure about the concept of a women’s networking group – in fact I wasn’t even comfortable about networking at all.  Three years later I am a raving fan. I have met some of the nicest women with whom I have built firm friendships and amazing business links. When you are a woman in business for yourself it sometimes feels like a struggle to balance everything. It’s been so nice to realise that there are other like-minded women who share the same issues…but instead of sitting around drinking coffee in flowery skirts we work out ways to make things easier for ourselves. The support is immense!”

“From my first Athena Guest lunch I felt very welcome and decide to join immediately . I could really see the value and benefits of having the support of other women running their own businesses. It was great fun and a wonderful opportunity to learn about some fabulous local businesses as well as promoting my own business. I am really looking forward to the next year and getting to know my group and see how we can support each other.”

“For me, Athena has been a great support network when starting out in a homebased role spending a lot of time on my own. Networking with the other ladies in my group has enabled to me to get out of the house and meet people in a similar position to myself, and we are able to support each others’ businesses at the same time.”

“I admit sometimes it’s a struggle to fit in the Athena meetings with everything else that goes on in my “work” world but it would have to be something pretty major for me to miss a meeting because I gain so much from my “Athena” time. For me it’s a time to stop and reflect, to regain focus and where necessary to challenge my thoughts and behaviours in a supportive and forward thinking environment.”


“The friendliness and support from other members is enormous.  It has meant that I have gone from working on my own to feeling like I have a lot of colleagues that I work with.  Having an increased network of contacts that are reliable means that my confidence has increased in the respect of knowing that I have supportive people around me to call upon.  The monthly training within the meeting always gives you something to take away and think about, not only from a business perspective but personally too.  Overall a great boost to self esteem and lovely to see friendships being formed.”

“During the 4 years that I have been a member of Athena, my confidence in both networking and public speaking has blossomed, this has been as a result of being part of a community of ladies that have supported and inspired me.  Recently myself and some of the members have set up a mentoring group whereby we meet each month before the meeting to see how we can help each other, either through own experiences and ideas or via our own contacts outside of Athena.  Most importantly for me personally, Athena has also contributed to my overall wellbeing through meeting a wonderful reflexologist, dietician, personal trainer and sports massage therapist – 4 ladies through whom my health has improved dramatically”


‘I was a complete stranger to business networking before joining Athena, and unsure what to expect. I’m not someone who likes to blow their own trumpet, bleat about business or shout from the rooftops about successes and failures. However, from the first meeting, I could tell I was in good company with a range of women from an array of businesses who all had one thing in common; they understood the highs and lows of being a woman in business. Far from being competitive, all I felt was support, and as a result, this feeling of camaraderie at each meeting has sent my self-esteem and confidence soaring. I’ve discovered skills I didn’t know I had, and am regularly inspired by the ladies in my group and beyond. Incredibly, I’ve even started taking tentative steps towards friendship, which was not something I hoped for from a business networking group. Joining Athena has far exceeded my expectations, and I’m excited about the year ahead and the role Athena is sure to play.’

“I have found Athena to be a really positive part of my life.  I enjoy getting out from behind the computer and having a really uplifting meeting and enjoy lunch with like minded ladies.  I always leave feeling very inspired and full of energy and it is very healthy to think about your business each month & to summarise what targets you are hoping to meet it makes me feel much more focused.”


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