A career within the networking industry (I don’t think it’s even recognised as an industry!), isn’t exactly what I dreamt of when I was a little girl, so the best way to explain how I got here is simply to start from the beginning…
During my second year at Uni an email did the rounds asking ‘do you want work experience in a creative company?’ so I thought yeah! Why not! I applied and got a placement doing voluntary work at a CGI and animation company called Milky Tea.
I still don’t really understand what they do but I had a great time doing market research for Jon the founder (Hi Jon!). The day after valentines day in 2006, Jon took me along to my very first business networking event. I remember the date because I was really hungover from the night before – being single at Uni valentines day was a great night out.
Anyway, I had absolutely no idea what I was walking into and upon arrival had a name badge and G&T thrust into my face and told to simply talk to people.
‘Talk to people’?
Like, go up to these people, who look super professional and intelligent and successful, and just start talking to them?
What could I possibly have to say that would be of interest to them?
I don’t even know what CGI and animation is!
And what ever happened to ‘stranger danger’?
I’ve been told not to speak to strangers my entire life, and now all of a sudden I’m expected to just crack on and have a chat?
No thank you my friend.
I spent most of that first event hiding in the toilets. Yes the hangover didn’t help, but to be honest I think I’d have hidden regardless, it was completely terrifying and to say I wasn’t a natural networker would have been an understatement.
But, I didn’t end my networking career there (as you’ve probably guessed). A few weeks later I attended another event, this time a bit more mentally and emotionally prepared, and I eventually plucked up the courage to go and speak to someone.
His name was Livingston and he built bespoke furniture, and he was so relieved someone had approached him and said hello he thought I was wonderful and we chatted about nothing in particular the rest of the night: that was it, I was hooked.
I literally fell in love with networking that night and couldn’t wait to go to more events, speak to more people and find out about their businesses and backgrounds and plans for the future.
In my third year at Uni I continued to do voluntary work, this time at a film and photography company (I understand what they do), and I was able to continue to practice my networking skills. After graduating I got a job working there, then moved into an advertising agency where again networking was a massive part of my role.
I quickly found that I had a bit of a knack for match-making businesses.
I’d meet someone and ask them about themselves and their business, and my brain would be off thinking through the people I knew and their businesses and how they could potentially work together! I’d introduce people I knew had common interests, or the same target market, or that would be mutually beneficial and people loved it!
This is when my first business was born.
A year after graduating I went self employed as a professional networker; and yes this is something I completely made up.
Rather than taking commission from introductions I’d made which resulted in business (I’ve never taken commission for a single introduction – it just didn’t sit right with me), I’d take on a client and go out networking on their behalf!
I’d only have one client from each industry so there was no conflict of interest, I’d conduct a corporate analysis on their business so I really understood their products/services, their target market and their company culture, then I’d go out to all the networking events I could find and meet people: anyone I met that would be of interest to any of my clients I’d introduce leaving them to meet and do business. Simple!
And I loved it: I mean really loved it. I didn’t pay for food or booze for a year, I got invited to all kinds of amazing events like the international tennis and glamorous awards evening and restaurant openings and speed networking and charity luncheons! Every event format you can think of, there was a networking event for it and I was there, Mon-Fri 6am – sometimes 6am with naps in between.
But after a year I’d had enough.
Speaking to people is hard work. It might not sound like it but trust me it is. After a year I wanted to hide away in a darkened room with nothing but the sound of silence to keep me company (bit dramatic I know).
So I moved back to my home city of Carlisle where I decided it was time to get a ‘real’ job. In order to meet people in business I did what I knew best – go networking! However, when I looked there wasn’t really much networking going on. I was used to 5 or 6 events a day but in Carlisle there was maybe one a month back then.
I took what I’d learnt attending events, and my second business was born.
I launched my own business networking company on the 15th of May 2010 and it was tough. I mean really tough. Networking just wasn’t part of business culture then; well it was, but people didn’t realise it. They did business through relationships, but those relationships didn’t come from attending events because there were hardly any events!
It took about a year to get going but eventually people saw what I was trying to do and they joined, and more importantly they started attending events. The next few years were a massive learning curve for me from the side of running a company, hosting events, putting myself forward for awards (some I won some I lost), PR, and social media for business was just starting out. It was a great experience and something I learned a lot from, including my work ethic and the fact that I’m not very good at separating work from ‘real life’.
After a few years I felt I’d learned as much as I could and craved being part of a team, something I’d kind of skipped since graduating. I ended up moving to the North East where again I tried some ‘normal’ jobs, which really didn’t suit me, until I met David who had founded The Mussel Club eight years prior.
I basically stalked him until he agreed to give me a job and let me run The Mussel Club for him, which I did and was MD for nearly three years.
Getting to know the business community here in the North East has been amazing and it still surprises me five years on! There’s a real sense of community, as well as a healthy dose of entrepreneurial competition which I love.
The last few years I’ve spent within the tech industry has been another massive learning curve for me, but that’s a story I’ll keep for another day.
For now, that’s how my networking journey began; not the most conventional of beginnings but it lead to where I am today, and gave me the experience to create my strategic networking model, something which really is a story for another day.