Starting my photography business a few years ago has been a voyage of learning new skillsets and meeting a variety of people. Two of the things that (like many others) I really wasn’t aware of before I started my business, were that firstly, it is really easy for your work to take over your life. Many self-employed people put in incredibly long hours for (when you work it out pro rata) not much money. And secondly, that just because you are good at what you do, it doesn’t automatically follow that your business will be successful. I have seen people who are amazing at the thing they make or the service that they provide, who just can’t seem to create enough turnover to sustain their business, and equally there are plenty of very average businesses with diaries and order books brimming with clients. So it has become apparent to me that it is crucial to find some work life balance (not sure I’ve got there yet – but it’s work in progress!) and that although it is all too easy to get caught up in your workload, it is at least as important to work ON your business and not just IN it.
Around three years ago it was suggested to me that I come along to the local business networking group meeting in Horncastle. I put off doing anything about it for ages, for a multitude of reasons. I thought that it might be dull and full of suits being serious, I felt a bit intimidated that maybe I was a bit too new and didn’t know enough about business and somehow I wouldn’t be taken seriously, I wasn’t sure I could justify the time or costs involved, surely taking time to go to meetings was time I wasn’t spending doing work, right? And on top of that I was a bit nervous, it was a little bit out of my comfort zone. So it took me months before I finally got around to going.
At my first meeting my fears were quickly allayed, Kay who runs the meeting was very welcoming and it was just having breakfast with a really nice, friendly bunch of people who were interested in what I did. Over the following weeks and months I got to know the group better, developed some really good friendships, learned about their specialist fields and found people I trusted to go to for advice and help about my own business, was commissioned to do work for my fellow networkers, so going to meetings benefitted me financially. It’s a great group that I recommend local people to try.
I started to understand that networking is not about rocking up to your first meeting and filling your order book, it’s a slower drip feed, and the ripples yield far greater results. That you have to give people the chance to get to Know you, Like you and Trust you, before you become the expert in your field that they turn to or recommend to others.
Fast forward about eighteen months and one of my networking buddies, Anna, invited me to visit another group she was involved with. I went along to the 4N lunchtime meeting in Sleaford, which I really enjoyed and I met some great people with an interesting range of businesses. I was very tempted to join, but at that time my thought was that all of the meetings in the area were 20+ miles away and I was concerned that the meetings combined with travel would use too much time. Until about 6 months later, when the launch of a new 4N group in Woodhall Spa seemed to be perfect timing. The location was brilliant for me and I was delighted to be involved with the team organising it. I still felt very committed to Kay’s group in Horncastle which I have no intention of giving up, but I was also very ready to up the amount of networking I was doing as I could see the positive effect it was having on me and on my business.
So now it is almost 6 months since I joined 4N as a passport member and I can see so many positives from being involved. I’m a big believer that what you get out is effected by what you put in. I am factoring networking into the marketing that I need to do as part of my business. As a result I have met some fantastic people and because as a member you can travel to meetings wherever you want, you can broaden the quantity and diversity of people and businesses that you can reach. 4N claims to be 50% social and 50% business and this is evident in the relaxed and friendly meetings that I have been to and I have made some great friends. It has given me the opportunity to tell a whole bunch of people about my photography, I have delivered 4sight talks, this has the dual advantage of letting people get to know me better whilst giving me confidence and honing my public speaking skills (4sight talks are not a pitch, they can be informative, educational, anecdotal or just plain entertaining). And again it has been very beneficial for my business, I have been asked to photograph Gok Wan next week, something that wouldn’t have happened without the recommendation of a fellow 4N member Clare.
Whatever stage your business is at it can benefit from Networking. Being self-employed can be quite isolated and not only do you have to be skilled in your profession, but in order to make your business grow in a competitive market, you need to excel at marketing, website design, accounting, branding, social media presence, advertising, pricing, business planning, insurance, dealing with clients, time management and a multitude of other tasks. It can be very tricky to keep all the balls in the air and sometimes it is hard to know if you are doing the right thing. And then there’s all the other parts of your life that it is important to manage and you don’t know who to ask, like your health and welfare, pensions, wills and a whole bunch of stuff that is on your to do list to think about or action, but never gets ticked off. So if once a fortnight you had the chance to spend a couple of hours building your business, getting new clients, and have one to one time speaking to experts who could make your business run more smoothly or be more productive, it would be a no brainer right?
In the words of Taz Thornton ‘if you think networking is NOT working then you are not doing it right’. 4Networking is not scary, it is not a cult, there’s no pressure to attend or obligation to bring people (although if you invite someone who joins they give you a month’s free membership), and you can make huge changes to your business, along with some great friends. If you haven’t given it a try so far, then why not come along as a guest to a meeting and see for yourself. Our Woodhall group meets for breakfast once a fortnight (which I love because it is a really productive way to start the morning, is finished by 10 and it fires me up for the rest of the day) or send me a message and I can put you in touch with a meeting nearer to you.