Women leading women

Diary of a networking newbie

It’s 2pm on Thursday 28th January.  My New Year’s resolution of worldwide (ok, London-wide) domination is 27 days and 14 hours behind schedule.  Even if I take out the weekends, I’m still rather behind. This calls for drastic action.

I am a 27 year old woman from NI, living in London.  Last autumn I was asked by an engineering firm to run their brand-spanking-new sustainability consultancy.  Great opportunity at this age (I am aware that this may invite disparaging comments from lots of thrusting adolescent CEOs) and I grabbed it.  Until 1st January 2010, the main portion of my department’s income had mostly been thanks to the firm’s existing contacts.  So far, so convenient.

But for me, it wasn’t quite enough.  I didn’t want to hang off their coattails.  And so began a frenzy of planning, objective writing and revenue projections.  Business plan versions 1 through to 14 were full of optimism and grand numbers; by version 27 I had realised something – in order to achieve my impressive goals, I would have to get my name and my business known in the right circles.  Well, any circles would do – world dominators can’t be fussy.

So version 27 is where we’re at on 28th January at 2pm.  And I’ve decided – it’s networking time.  I have to confess; I’ve always thought of networking as a rather aggressive, sell-sell-sell form of making contacts – which can have its benefits – though might take a bit of getting used to.  My limited forays into the networking world have always been within the comfort of a larger organisation, where although you want to sell the company’s wares and achieve the best that you can, it’s not really about you.  This time though, it’s personal.

Trawling the net I come across a Be2camp event.  I have a look at the website.  It’s just what I’m looking for – an industry that has definite relation to sustainability but not an established link.  Property.  Scanning the running order, I see that it’s actually an afternoon of presentations, with a networking event for the attendees at the end.  Then I notice a curious section within the event: Presenters give something called a pecha kucha presentation – 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide – on their chosen subject.  Haven’t heard of it?  Me neither.  Which is why it’s particularly bizarre that I find myself emailing Paul the organiser to present one of these pecha kuchas.  Apparently I like a challenge.

Cue frantic presentation making and general panic.

Monday dawns with more last-minute tweaks and graphic sourcing – hey, I said I liked a challenge, I never said I was organised!  It gets done though and I’m pretty proud of it.  I still wasn’t sure how strictly the 20-20 rule would be enforced – would they have a big clock and Countdown-style music?  If I went over the allotted 6 minutes and 40 seconds would a trapdoor open beneath me?  Depending on how the presentation was received, that could be a blessing.

Neither of those things happened.  I arrived and was met by the tornado of energy that is Bernie Mitchell, who was hosting the event – he made sure that the other presenters and I were happy and he guaranteed us a warm reception from the audience.  Said audience was lovely, attentive and appreciative and the other presenters equally so.  Straight after the pecha kuchas were finished I was approached by several audience members – I found myself handing out cards, agreeing to meet to discuss collaborations, finding out about their businesses.  In short, I found myself networking.

And you know what?  It was personal, and I loved it.  Not everyone who I talked to was a potential client, nor was I one of theirs, but I came to realise that networking isn’t always about who you’re talking to now, sometimes it’s about who they talk to next.  I discovered that it’s not just about forming a business network; it can be a support network too.  I found out about other events, other networks and received useful advice and contacts.  When people found out I was a newbie they went out of their way to offer help and encouragement.  I came to the conclusion that we network everyday anyway, whether within work or in the outside world.  I know that business networking might not suit everyone; it’s a skill and one that I’m just scratching the surface of.  But I would advise everyone to give it a go – even if only once.

One more piece of advice to any other potential newbies out there before they venture into this wonderful new world – enjoy your lie-ins while they last, these networkers just love their breakfast meetings.

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About the Author: Joanne Rourke is the Associate Director of Sustainability at Peter Deer and Associates, an engineering firm, based in north London.  Given that many businesses wish to do something to improve the sustainability of their practices, her goal is to help them identify this “something” and act on it.  This can be as simple as developing relationships with local businesses to improve their place in the community or as complex as creating sustainable waste management systems for entire company networks.  She is passionate about educating businesses and individuals on what true sustainability means and how this can help their business grow and develop.  The fact that sustainability is not just about the environment is often well concealed, so it’s her goal to help people achieve social, economic and environmental sustainability in ways that suit their business model.  She works with many different types of organisations – from colleges and universities to property management companies; analyzing their current performance and developing their personal sustainability strategy

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  1. Emma Crabtree says

    Joanne, great piece! I’m off to a networking event tonight which is more social than business but still gets me in front of lots of people (even if they have to listen to me in my stuttering Portuguese). I always feel nervous going to these things and then they always turn out well. Sometimes I even get some work out of it!
    Here’s to a year of networking fun!
    Best wishes,
    Emma.