I can still remember the feelings when, rather bravely it seemed, I went to my first networking meeting as a self-employed person. I was sure that the room was filled with ‘real’ business people and that I would be caught out as a fraud. Little did I think that a decade later I would be a Businesswoman of the Year finalist in the Cambridge Business Excellence Awards and also Chair of Cambridge Businesswomen’s Network!
I couldn’t have built up my business, contacts or confidence without the networking that I’ve enjoyed. I’ve learnt such a lot in that time – namely that almost everyone feels nervous when they first go to these events, and that it’s a vital part of growing your own business, forging links for the company you work for and, indeed, a prerequisite for successful job hunting. Start slowly. Even when you ask for a recommendation for a restaurant or an opinion about who could build you a website, you are networking. Done well, it’s about finding shared interests and developing and maintaining mutually-beneficial relationships, not just about securing a lead or a sale!
When working with clients who’ve lost their jobs or want to change direction, I find it surprising how many fail to tap into their existing informal networks. These can be such a rich source of job leads and information about work opportunities. Friends, former employers, colleagues, members of professional associations are just as important as the plethora of research that can be done via print or the internet. Of course, courage and skills are needed to make choices and contacts, but confidence can be built and skills can be encouraged and honed through tailored mentoring.
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