Kevin Kelly once said: “A brain is a society of very small, simple modules that… are not smart in themselves. But when you have a network of them together, out of that arises a kind of smartness.”
I know it is old and hackneyed but in business, location matters. I run a food business and often people offer me an opportunity that they think is too good to be missed: a retail venue that I just have to see; a café that just can’t fail; a building that’s just perfect. The number of times I have stood outside those venues and not seen a soul walk by at 1 pm. Lunch time. When people buy food. That’s not good; the location is not right.
For me this is a really simple business principle and it works as well with people as it does with buildings. Location is all important. If you are going to network with people you can’t do it from a desk or a laptop. You need to get out and meet people.
I firmly believe that people buy from people. People invest in people. We need to offer great products and services and we need great business plans, but these mean nothing if people don’t know who you are and if they don’t like or trust you.
So here are my pointers on this subject:
1. Firstly, put yourself outside your comfort zone. Your friends and acquaintances have already done everything for you that they can. You need to meet new people outside of your current circle and sometimes that’s uncomfortable.
2. Put yourself in the right place at the right time with the right people. It doesn’t matter if you spend time meeting people who are no real value to you and your business. Meet with people who you want to do business with now or, just as importantly, in the future.
3. Put yourself out there regularly, not just at the big event of the year. Push yourself forward a bit and sit down and decide at the start of the year what events you want to be at.
4. If you have the experience, book yourself onto conferences and offer to run a seminar. That way people will notice you and you can hang around before and after – when the real conversations happen.
5. Always talk confidently about your business. Never over-promise what you can do or achieve but be brave enough to make bold assertions that you know you can deliver in a short time with a favourable wind behind you. I believe it was Tim Smit from The Eden Project who called these “future truths”, and we all use them!
6. Be prepared to ask for help honestly from people. If there is an event you want to attend, pick up the phone and speak to someone and be honest: “I am not on the invite list but I would love to be there because I think I would really learn something. Can you please help me?”
7. Be authentic. Never, ever stand looking over the shoulder of the person you are talking to to see if there is someone more interesting there. People value authenticity.
If all this talk of putting yourself in front of a room full of new people makes you squirm then here's my top tip:
Walk tall as you enter the room. Grab a drink and take a moment to look around the room and pick out a group of four or five people who obviously know each other. Walk confidently up to them and tell them that you don’t know anyone in the room…would they mind if you joined them? It never fails. They’ll open up the group and one of them will ask you a question and you’re on your way.
Talk for five minutes or so and then excuse yourself to move onto the next group. Oh and one more thing…never, ever forget your business cards. The panic on people’s face when you show an interest in their product or service and they realise they don’t have a card to give you is mildly amusing the first time but quickly grows tiresome!
Remember: people respond to, buy from and invest in people. Get out there and meet them, they will love you. And if not then at least you got a free lunch.
Sarah Dunwell is the founder of the award-winning social enterprise the Create Foundation, an organisation which provides training and employment opportunities to marginalised or vulnerable people. For more information, visit: www.createfoundation.co.uk