When I first started out as a freelance writer I felt very much on my own. I had no experience of working for myself and I spent most of my time between projects scrabbling around on low-paid job sites, trying to find more work.
I didn't cotton on to business networking until 2015. I'd always been highly anxious about speaking in public so had avoided putting myself 'out there'. As my business started to stall, however, I began researching the steps I could take to remedy this and came across plenty of online articles about the benefits of networking. I found a local group and, in one of those reckless, 'I'll sign up before I have time to talk myself out of it' moments, I went along to my first meeting.
I hadn't specifically looked for a women-only group but that's what this one happened to be. I'm quite happy to admit that I wasn't sure what to expect at first: would it be full of power-suited alpha-females, all trying to shout each other down to prove they're the best? (I might have been in the middle of watching the latest Apprentice series when I formed that opinion of course...)
Thankfully - obviously - I discovered that wasn't the case at all. I was immediately welcomed and made to feel at ease by a group of friendly and inspiring women who were ready to help support each other's businesses in whatever way they could. My first pitch was shaky (and continued to be until I booked a place on Maria Furtek's excellent Networking with Confidence course!) but I made it through and I left feeling more motivated than I'd been for a long while. I'd handed out plenty of business cards and made some lasting contacts: for the first time in ages I was heading in a really positive direction. And, as I was soon to find out, referrals from people who know and trust you are worth an awful lot!
I've continued networking on a regular basis and, while I also often attend groups that include men (and some great men at that), it's always when I connect with women that I feel the most creative and energised. The synergy that exists when strong, imaginative and enthusiastic women come together is truly awesome.
Which is the reason I was looking forward to getting together with a group of this type of women one morning earlier this week. Natasha Sutton, owner of Aubel Chocolates, kindly hosted the event (as well as providing some extremely delicious cookies, sablés and chocs) and a very productive two and half hours was spent swapping ideas.
Despite a variety of businesses sat round the table we all had a lot in common. We all face the same challenges (finding new clients, marketing ourselves, juggling work with family life etc.) and so were able to come up with some inventive and resourceful advice for each other! We were also able to use our own contacts to link each other up with new people who may be able to help us and, by the time we reluctantly left (I got the feeling that if we hadn't all had other committments we would have happily sat around Natasha's table until late into the afternoon...) it really felt as though we'd taken another positive step forward with both business and personal connections.
Thanks so much to Tropic Skincare's Trisha Mayes for letting us loose on so many lovely Tropic products (we were all beginning to run out of spare skin to try them on by the end of the session) and for providing some pampering facials.
Thanks also to photographer and copywriter Susannah Wheeler for taking these fab photos!
And to the rest of you lovely ladies who took time out of your busy days to join us:
Tina Murray from TM Curtains and Blinds, Linda North of Your Holiday Booking, Katarina James from top2toe Mobile Beauty Treatments and Susan Church of Susan Church Nutrition - looking forward to seeing you all again soon!
I've already mentioned Maria Furtek, above, as the go-to person for help with finessing your networking pitch and learning how to present it with poise (if you see me at a network event, see if you can spot me anchoring*!) but I can also thoroughly recommend her Successful Women in Business group.
I've been a member for four months and have found the peer-to-peer support plus Maria's business mentoring really useful. If you'd like a hand to focus on and progress your business then it would be well worth getting in touch with Maria.
Next week: I'm back on the trail of quirky new places for freelancers to work in. Watch out for clues as to where I might be!
* Anchoring = not a euphemism. Look it up!