Wednesday, 10 April 2013

It's Business, Baby - Networking Masterclass with Cassie Lawrence

It's Business, Baby!

This week's It's Business Baby offering comes in the form of a guest post from National Young Businesswoman of the Year, Cassie Lawrence. Cassie owns caricature cake topper companies Cake Top Characters, Cake Top Babies, as well as wedding blog Catching Bouquets. Cassie is also a freelance graphic designer, specialising in the wedding industry and is the Marketing Manager at Leading Women UK. She is also a member of the UCP Peer Committee and is passionate about people! She is the absolute queen of networking - whenever I find myself in a quandary regarding a networking event, I always think - 'What would Cassie do?' So if like me, you find offline networking the most difficult part of your business, read on...

Networking – a word that almost seems naked without 'Social' coming first.

This is where it all started people, before Twitter was a mere egg in Jack Dorsey's pre-millionaire mind! For many, 'networking' conjures up images of dusty old men in suits, exchanging business cards with a handshake, and the thought is dismissed as we settle down to Instagram a picture of our coffee. I love Social Media more than anyone else I know – I mean, I was actually in the act of Instagramming as my fiance proposed (the full story is on my blog – naturally!) but I am also a big fan of face to face networking, and it doesn't have to involve grey haired chaps and business breakfasts (although if a free bacon bap is going, count me in!).

My first experience of networking was only 2 years ago, and since then I have gone from almost walking out of that room to loving it so much that I work for a female network that run over 15 meetings a month, just in one county! So what's it all about, what do you 'do', what do you avoid, and frankly, why would you change out of those jammies when you can network via Social Media?

It literally is just a real-life version of what you do online – it's as simple as that! Swap an RT for a verbal recommendation, a hashtag for a tweet-up and a follow for a business card and you are more than halfway there. It's really important that your 'offline you' and your 'online you' match up – I like to think that I fit that bill, although I am still searching for the perfect foundation to give me that 'Amaro'-worthy filter face! Until then, a bit of concealer and a smile will do, and off I go with a bag full of flyers and a tummy full of coffee.

Literally the mot hideous photo of me in existence, but hey, we're just showing that networking is fun!

So, what made me go out for an evening of networking in the first place, back when my degree scroll had barely left my hand? Like the lovely Sophie, I was lucky enough to secure some business funding and I was encouraged to attend a 'speed networking' event held by an organisation the funding body worked with, specialising in events for young businesspeople, called The Hub. As I tentatively entered the hotel function room, straightening my wonky plastic name badge, I wondered what on earth I was doing – everyone was in groups and like any normal human I just assumed that everyone there must of course know each other and I was going to stick out like a sore thumb. I needn't have worried though, because as the name suggests, we would be getting down to some speedy business shortly! With a Diet Coke in hand, I took my place in the row of seats and a whistle was blown every 2 minutes – we had 60 seconds each to introduce ourselves and our business, with an optional card swap, before moving along. This may sound scary, but it was the best thing I could have done – I was thrown in at the deep end and HAD to speak to lots of people, and it was great! It put everyone instantly on the same level and if you didn't really have much in common, it was fine because it would only be a matter of seconds before you met a new face. I can genuinely say that people who I met that night have turned out to be friends and business contacts – in fact I have been booked for a few jobs by one of those contacts with whom I am going out for a business lunch tomorrow!

Some people have networking strategies on how to 'work the room' – there are whole books devoted to it! Just typing 'networking' into Amazon brings up almost 35,000 results! But before you go and fill your bookshelf, I'm just going to say that A. I have never read one, B. I have found networking to be really beneficial to my business and myself as a 'brand', yet (and this is C.) I don't actually have a strategy! What I do have though are a few tips, things to do, consider and look out for. I hope they will at least get you thinking about attending an event and going outside of your comfort zone. They say do something every day that scares you, so do it! Find your nearest event (google! Or, arrange your own!) and sign up to one today!

image credits 1 // 2 // 3 // 4

Pop back next week for some top tips for nailing networking and some links to networking events and organisations to start you off.


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