3. Where did everybody go?
One minute you’re employed, and have co-workers, a boss and people that you can bounce ideas off, chat to about sport, the kids, alpacas or whatever takes your fancy – then quick as a flash, there is just you, confined to the smallest bedroom – with a laptop and a telephone.
Now, you will always get those comedy moments, when you get called by a company to arrange ‘team building’ events – paintballing for one, anyone? And you try to explain that your company is just you, and that no, you have no staff to offer perks to. But equally there can be hours (or days, depending on your job) where you have no contact with another human, and if you don’t make the effort (see part 2) nothing is going to change. Which leads us on to…
The N word… Networking!
Networking simply means meeting new people and is nothing to be scared of. You just need a chance for people to meet you, and for you to strike up a conversation. It doesn’t even need to be about work – in fact it is often better if it’s not.
Local networking events are available in most areas – some are very structured, and require weekly attendance – the big advantage being that you usually get to ‘lock out’ your competitors – as there will only be one dentist, decorator, web-designer there. This should mean that they pass business to you as and when it occurs. Examples include BNI, ABC and 4Networking.
There are lots of other drop-in type events, often run by the local chamber of commerce or local business owners that would prefer more of a conversational style meeting, and groups targeted at a particular trades or demographic group. There may be other people there with the same job title as you, so think out what you can say to differentiate yourself – without running down the competition!
There a quite a lot of ‘women only’ networking events, some of which I have found useful and met some lovely people, but others can feel a little too ‘girl power – let’s burn our bras’ – which is not my style. I am particularly enjoying a monthly Mums UnLtd group near me– it is pay as you go, with meetings in Whitstable and Canterbury, which means I can attend either or both meetings, depending on my diary.
You could simply use the fact that you are now in charge of your diary to join a golf club, Rotary group or do an activity where you will meet like-minded people – in all these places you will meet people, and you never know where your next client may come from, it may be their friend, boss or sister.
A word of warning
A wise man once said “networking is more about farming than hunting”
Business owners who attend meetings, spend time pitching to everyone in the room and pushing business cards into people’s hands tend to just be an annoyance to others in the room.
For a humorous take on this, see here by Charlie Lawson, who definitely knows a thing or two about networking:
Don’t go to an event with this sort of mind-set – just look forward to meeting some new and interesting people and take the opportunity to tell them about how what you do benefits your clients. Take time to build a relationship – your goal should be to meet them later for coffee, not sell them your product or service. Further down the line, if they like you, and feel they can trust you, they may refer their contacts to you.
The easiest way to start a conversation is to ask them what they do! Most people are quite happy to talk about themselves, and this often gives you other pointers about common interests or mutual acquaintances. Follow up with other questions, so that you get a feel for what they are really trying to achieve and finally ask them who their ideal client is. The natural response to this is that they will then ask you about your business.
You might want to think about how you present yourself and the words you use, so as to encourage the conversation to continue and not stop dead in its tracks. Rather than saying that you’re an accountant, which could be seen as a bit of a conversation killer, how about saying that you help people legally avoid paying tax…which leads them to say “tell me more”. You get the idea.
What else can I do?
Consider a shared working space
These take many forms, and range from taking your laptop to Starbucks, using their Wi-Fi and just having people around you, to formally renting a desk in your own office, or in some sort of Hot-Desk arrangement.
About 18 months ago, I made the leap to renting an office from the guys at Social Enterprise Kent in Herne Bay, a not-for-profit company who arrange staff training in everything from first aid to management training and back to work schemes.
For my business this has had loads of advantages:
- I have a space that is self-contained and secure – a must in my business for compliance to data protection procedures.
- I have facilities for clients to come to me for meetings, which has reduced my travelling time and expenses – as some clients no longer need a home visit.
- I can lock the door and go home– helping me separate work time from home time
- I have people to interact with as we make coffee in the shared kitchen, and can share a bit of banter with every so often.
I often work with the door of my office open, unless the printer is running or I’m on the phone, and I love having big window giving me a bright open working environment – a big jump from working on the kitchen table, or teeny bedroom. Being able to share ‘Christmas Jumper day’ or some-one’s news about a promotion or new baby makes me feel part of a team again – they’re a great bunch!
The cost of this is tax-deductible, and to a large amount is offset by the reduced mileage – but the most important thing I gain is time.
I now spend less time each week travelling and have a more defined place of work which I find it allows me to be more focused on each task, increasing my productivity. This frees up time for the things that really matter in life – spending time with those that I choose to, having adventures and having time to myself to just be me.