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 athenareading@jmva.co.uk 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.

www.stephaniesmithcoaching.co.uk

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

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.

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:

Support

“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.”

Confidence

“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”

Inspiration

‘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.”

 

How Not To Follow Up In Sales!

October 1, 2013 at 6:05 am | Posted in Articles, Member Stories | Leave a comment
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Grainne Ridge, Business Fit Club

Grainne Ridge, Business Fit Club

This month, Grainne Ridge of Business Fit Club shares her expertise on how we can change how we feel about selling by understanding more about the process.

How not to follow up in sales

Prospects can be frustrating. We have all had the experience of thinking that the business is in the bag and then what comes next is radio silence. They appeared keen to meet and find out more about our products and services. We burned the midnight oil to prepare a proposal and then – nothing. So why does this happen?  Here are just some of the reasons.

  1. We don’t understand their decision making process
    A proposal is just one part of the 11 stages in every buying decision. For this prospect they may be at the market research stage when they ask for a proposal and we have simply provided one more piece of research.

2.   We didn’t ask the right questions in our meeting.

Pre-proposal meetings are the prime time for us to find out as much as we can about the prospect’s business and yet this is often wasted by purely pitching. Do we know their pain points, their plans, their budgets, their timescales, their previous bad experiences with suppliers?  And these are just a few of the things we should know.

3.   We used the wrong language

How well matched was our proposal to their problems? Did we show them that we understood their biggest challenges and how the specific elements of our product would solve these?  Did we use their company language or ours? Did we propose next steps that hit their triggers, management meetings or other decision making steps?

4.  We didn’t follow up well

Did we say that we would call 1 week later at 3.30 and called 1 day later at 9.15?  Indeed, did we ask what the next steps should be? Keeping our commitments is part of the sales process. If we are lax in our follow up what message are we sending about our ability to deliver the goods? Secondly, agreeing up front what the next steps are creates a joint commitment which improves our chance of making contact, but it doesn’t guarantee it. We also need to be resourceful. How compelling are the phone messages we leave, the emails we send, the LinkedIn messages we send?  Who else can we call upon to get closer to our prospects

5.  Their needs have changed

Priorities can change, new stakeholders become involved, budgets get cut – or can increase. Proposals can often raise new issues that the prospect hadn’t previously considered, driving a whole new set of criteria – and a revised decision making process. All this can mean that the business may not happen for another 6 months so we need to find ways to stay in the running. Can we provide useful information in the meantime, invite them to relevant events or point them towards other resources.

6.  We didn’t stand out from the crowd

Few prospects will be simply sitting waiting for our proposal to arrive. They may have seen several suppliers so we need to be memorable. While this could be a novelty gift, if that would be appropriate, it could be our humourous approach, our sensitivity to their workload or an invitation to see our product in action.  Be creative!

So, with these in mind, can you spot what’s wrong with this follow up letter?!

Hi Mary

Can you please take me off your marketing database.

I came to see you and sent you a proposal, which you didn’t bother replying to, despite me chasing it up a couple of times.

I wouldn’t recommend you to anyone or wish to hear what you have to say.

Regards

M…….

So what can we do to give ourselves the best chance of success?

  1. Find out what their decision making process is – the timescales, the steps and the people who will be involved – and match it with your follow up activities.
  2. Ask what needs to be in the proposal, what format it should take and who else needs to see it.
  3. Deliver against the agreed timescales
  4. Get a specific commitment to the next step – and make it a strong one.
  5. Be resourceful and creative in your follow up
  6. Be useful to prospects, through your information, advice and other contacts you can provide
  7. Think long term.

And remember, in sales questions are often the answer.

Grainne Ridge

Business Fit Club

http://www.businessfitclub.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

 

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.

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