Following a career at PricewaterhouseCoopers, I set up my own business in 2008 as a coach and a consultant, as a result of becoming of mother to two gorgeous girls.
“I am passionate about diversity; about the transformation women undergo when they become Mums; and leadership. I believe we can all choose to be leaders in our own lives and communities. How we live depends so much on our own mindset and sense of wholeness”.
Kate Griffiths is co-founder of Minervas Mind. Minerva’s Mind helps women especially Mums discover what they are really interested in and to see how, by making more conscious decisions, they can use that new found knowledge to get more from their lives.
We are delighted to welcome Kate as our regular columnist reflecting the views of mums and commenting on work and life from a mums point of view.
What is meant by the term networking? Traditionally it was about getting together regularly with a group of people to talk about your business, hear about their business and see how you could help each other. More recently this has been overtaken by online networking such as facebook, twitter and linkedin. What this article explores is some of the different models of networking whilst posing some questions along the way. The intention is to produce readers with a guide to the different ways of networking and leave them with some thoughts to reflect on.
As I sit and write this article, I am conscious of the fact that a UK-based network that I recently became aware of is about to expand from its base in one county to two other counties in the next three months. Further to that I am aware of a coach who diversified their brand by co- launching a networking group based around an evening meal and from there spring boarded into writing a book on how to network successfully.
These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. There are also much more niche variations on the same theme. Mum’s the Boss (MTB), run by two women who I have much respect for, is in the process of expanding on a regional basis at the moment. It has moved from Bedfordshire to Warwickshire, Leicestershire and now includes Hertfordshire. Another brand in the same niche has hired a consultant to do all their marketing and sales and seems to be taking a Starbucks approach of having one of its clubs in every town within a certain number of miles from a location in Central England.
So what is driving people to get on the networking band wagon? Is it the fact that we are in a recession and it is difficult to sell any product or service so people are fast becoming advisers to small businesses and setting up networking groups is one of the ways to do that? There may be a more innocent rationale which I think certainly holds true for MTB and that is that they were passionate about providing a space for new and budding Mumpreneurs to meet at a time that was convenient to them and offer a cr�che so that there was nothing to prevent Mums from turning up to their meetings. The founders of MTB were Mums themselves and were aware of just how difficult it was for Mums to become successful in business so set up MTB.
They are one group but there are others whose focus is more on making money, helping people is secondary. What evidence is there to support that view. One look at the kind of contract drawn up for potential franchise partners in one set up is indicative of the founders’ intention: it was very formal, highly legalistic and there was no sense of it being collaborative rather the focus was on how much money the founders could make out of the idea.
So is everyone mad for networking? There is one group of people I have not yet mentioned and they are the ones who have not embraced social networking in any great way. They have very few contacts on Linkedin. They are probably on twitter but spend much of their time lurking and as for offline networking groups they are rarely seen at one. And yet they do have a good set of business contacts who feed them work directly or through referrals to third parties. It is a very different take to the current message we are bombarded with which states that to be successful in business, a micro business needs to take advantage of all forms of social media.
Finally the last example of networking that I want to leave with you is that performed by cyber mums and the occasional dad who do not fit into the MTB category mentioned above. The common denominator is that they have babies and/ or toddlers. Some work and that can be full-time or part-time; others are stay at home parents. They are very social media savvy. They follow the latest trends in terms of social media and their blogs are often highly interactive. I have had the privilege of sampling many blogs and the quality of writing is astounding both for its originality and beauty. I digress the point is that this group is not trying to sell anyone anything, although because they have highly successful blogs, they often receive PR freebies. They use social networking to alleviate the daily grind of motherhood in highly creative ways. Recently these people that for the most part knew each other online, have started to arrange offline meetings to strengthen the bonds that they have. And according to the media they were a force to be reckoned with during the recent election campaign.
So what’s my take on networking? It has definitely been a key part of growing my business in that I have met online and subsequently offline some amazing people that have changed my world. Two of them are involved in writing a book with me and that is not something I could have predicted in 2009. I met Karen and Phil Birch through it and that is how I have come to have a regular column with 3rdimagazine. For seven months, I was a member of the People’s panel and regularly appeared on BBC1 thanks to people I met online through twitter. Yes, networking has led to me making money but the main focus has been on meeting people, building relationships which have gone off in all sorts of directions and that is because at bottom what matters to me is making connections with people. Tools like twitter and facebook mean that building relationships happens much more quickly as I do not have to wait for a monthly meeting.
I conclude by leaving you with this thought that whether it is online or offline networking, it is very easy for others to see through the presenting message and discover the level of integrity in the messenger. For me it is all about the energetic calibrations with another, others may call it something else: whatever, the net result is the same. In other words underlying intentions do shine through which determines the level of trust an individual has and their impact.
It is not about selling rather it is about being congruent. It can take a long time to build a reputation and one unfortunate remark can destroy that. Hopefully these observations provide you with something to reflect on especially if you feel you are not getting the level of response that you want.
Whatever models of networking people employ be it consciously or unconsciously, networking is an integral part of an SME’s armoury.