I am a recovering networker. For years I was sucked into attending what nearly always turned out to be dull, unrewarding networking meetings – because I was told that networking was really useful – and, at first, I believed it.
So, on behalf of various employers, I ate pre-dawn bacon baps at breakfast meetings and I juggled canapes and cheap wine at early evening meetings. I smiled and promoted my employer’s products and services, but I wasn’t smiling inside.
I loathed the hard sells I was subjected to. I didn’t like talking to people who constantly scanned behind me for their next victim. I didn’t like the one-way conversations of people who were only interested in selling something. They weren’t interested in me – and most of them didn’t even have the grace to pretend to be. No, they had an ‘elevator pitch’ and they were going to batter me – and everybody else in the room – over the head with it. I acquired a huge collection of business cards and came to dread the N-word. It just wasn’t working for me.
When I became self-employed things changed. As a writer, I need to have a genuine liking for my clients. I need to be enthused by their business, and I need to properly connect with them. Without these things I know I am unlikely to be able to deliver a good end product for them. And when I say good, I mean something that produces good outcomes for my client and that I can be proud of.
I realised that, if I wanted clients, it was still vital to see and be seen in the business community, but I wanted to do it through building relationships. The question was… how?
Reader, I struck gold. And it all came about through the company I approached to sort out a tax problem. The company in question was Russell Payne & Co Ltd, and it’s a firm of accountants. Yes, I would never have believed it either – what could accountants do for anyone except keep them on the straight and narrow with HMRC? Well, I soon found out that Russell Payne & Co was not your average firm of accountants.
Heading up the business was Russell Payne himself and Russell is…different. He’s not that interested in being an accountant for a start. His passion is for business development and anyone who comes into contact with his company will see how an ordinary business can become an extraordinary business. Because Russell lives what he preaches, and when you’re his client, you receive support beyond anything you might reasonably expect.
For example, when I first visited David, my accountant in the firm, he invited me to leave some business cards in their waiting room. Next time I visited they were handsomely displayed among the business cards of other clients, there for any visitor to see and take.
It wasn’t very long before Russell himself contacted me and asked me to write some copy for him. Because he saw my business card too and generously decided to give me, a client, some business. That’s how he rolls – actions speak louder than words.
We met and I experienced the phenomenon that is Russell Payne, and a mutually beneficial working relationship developed. But, you ask, what’s that to do with networking?
Well, Russell’s passion for business development led him to set up quarterly Business Bootcamps, lively and interactive half-day sessions where he passes on his passion, experience and knowledge to other business owners. The Business Bootcamps are now legendary and business owners flock to attend.
I attended my first Business Bootcamp to gather information to inform my copywriting for Russell, and it was a revelation. All the business owners in the room were there to learn how to make their businesses more profitable and successful: Russell not only shared his own wisdom and experience, he also brought along experts in their fields to pass on practical help.
But, here’s the thing that really grabbed me – after the formal session all those business owners stayed on to chat together. They met the speakers, drank more coffee, asked questions, shared experiences with each other, laughed… and began to develop or strengthen relationships.
Since that first Business Bootcamp, I’ve also attended many of Russell’s range of business development sessions and it’s through these events that I’ve found what I was looking for – a place where people meet through a shared experience. We leave after having had genuine, engaging conversations with other business owners which are, as often as not, the start of a new friendship.
Business cards are only swapped because you like someone and they like you and you want to know more about each other. Through these meetings I have had more new clients than ever came to me from ‘networking’ – and I have met people who I can confidently recommend to others. Better still, I have made some good friends. All this without the pain of elevator pitches and superficial conversations.
PS. David saved me a shedload of money.