Late last year, we moved to Maidenhead — a town some thirty or so miles outside London — and that was all it took for my networking habit to reset back down to zero. It fell over and died. And, as an introvert, once I fall out of the habit of doing it, I will use pretty much any excuse under the sun to avoid getting back in gear.
They (whoever this mythical they might be) say that London is an unfriendly place. Nobody talks to each other and community ties are weak and rarely formed. To be frank, however, I think that’s utter bunkum. When you live and work in an area — provided you’re actually open to it — you form ties and networks all the time, both with the like-minded and those who stretch your perceptions.
I’ve lived in some of the most allegedly inhospitable parts of the capital and have never had an issue forming ties, despite my introverted nature. Your average London routine makes it practically impossible to remain unconnected; standing at the same bus stop, popping by the same local café or just sitting in your favourite spot doing work as the world goes by, you’re bound to meet a lot of people more than once.
And as these ties emerge, natural networking opportunities occur. Also, in London, you trip over conferences and trade events every day. There’s always something going on around the corner.
Small business owners need to connect with people outside of their business
I’d never experienced how different it is outside a major urban centre. Here, everything is spread further apart, and the routine won’t have you bumping shoulders with nearly as many people every day, especially if you don’t drive. The people are still very friendly, it’s a great place to live and work and the dogs are over the moon with all the open space and countryside around us.
However, from October till March, I became quite insular. My lack of face-to-face contact outside of the business was becoming a negative. And this negativity creeps up on you, and your work, in so many ways. It’s quite insidious, and so slow and you may not even notice.
Eventually, you’ll be procrastinating more than before, your frustration levels go up, your mood dips and productivity and creativity start to level off. All the while, I didn’t even notice this was happening.
Those might not sound like problems for an introvert (because we prefer computers to people, right?). Well, they are and they aren’t problems. Whilst your average introvert might be an excellent self-motivator and prefer their own company a lot of the time, it doesn’t mean that ideas and creativity can always flourish in a vacuum.
This slowly dawned on me over a period of about a month. I couldn’t quite tell what was wrong, but something was definitely amiss. It seemed to me I was missing the daily watercooler effect of visiting and connecting with other local business owners and the fresh perspectives they afford from outside my own little fishbowl.
What I needed was a plan.
Changing mindset and taking control
You’ve got to love “location-aware” software. I was setting up an event on Eventbrite for a client and this app showed me networking meetings going on in Maidenhead in the near future.
I’d already considered joining the local Chamber of Commerce but hadn’t gotten around to it. This encounter with Eventbrite kicked me into gear and I signed up for two events on the spot.
The first one I signed up to was the DRG Women in Business Group run by a firm of Chartered Accountants in Maidenhead. For my first foray into more formal networking in Maidenhead, this seemed like an ideal format: 15 minutes of conversation over coffee, a 30-minute presentation and 45 minutes of conversation over lunch.
And I wasn’t wrong. The event was beautifully hosted by DRG and although the group had already met a few times before, it was open and welcoming. The women were from diverse backgrounds and worked in all sorts of businesses.
- Natalie Reid-Hughes – Managing Director of Communiqué Associates and innovative boutique telemarketing company.
- Sally Hindmarch – Director at Partners with You Ltd a company that helps you master the art of communication using the skills of actors.
- Sheena Mason – An Advertising Account Manager at Baylis Media Ltd. That’s the company that runs the local newspaper.
- Gemma Bourne – Image and Style Consultant from Sussex.
- Ena Quick – now retired from A R Fabb and Brothers – an inspirational business woman who worked in and then ran the same company for over 50 years.
I left the event feeling energised and more connected with the business community in Maidenhead.
Forming the habit
The trick is to keep the momentum going by making sure that I make the time for getting out, away from my office and having coffee or lunch once a week with other business people in Maidenhead and the surrounding area. And that’s the hard part, right? As small business-owners, we are time-starved and face-to-face networking is the first thing to drop of the schedule when we’re busy, even though its benefits far outweigh the time investment.
Make sure you devote time and attention to people outside your business. The connections you make support your activities, and you in turn support them. You get fresh perspectives on your business and the marketplace. And, of course, you increase your pool of potential clients, as do they.
To make sure that I am walking the talk, Avidmode has just joined the local Chamber of Commerce. I am looking forward to networking events in April and beyond.