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5 steps for better connections

It’s been four months now since I set up my coaching and consultancy business. Having been in ‘safe’ employment for the past 28 years, it was a big move for to me to take the plunge, but one I had been wanting to make for a long time. There were some ‘nudges’ along the way; my children left home last October, a big birthday is looming this year and I had the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy. With all these ‘nudges’ aligning, I realised that if I didn’t take the leap now, I never would.

So, in the middle of January this year I registered with HMRC and was officially self-employed. I set up my website and vowed to be really open to people and new opportunities. And this is what I have learnt so far…….

Step 1 - Be curious

I’ve had so many train journeys in the past where I’ve sat down, plugged in my headphones, booted up my laptop and focused on the work in hand. I was careful to display a ‘do not disturb’ signal to anyone who dared to try to make eye contact or conversation. The new open and curious me now makes eye contact and connections with people. It’s not about drumming up business, but it’s about making genuine connections and feeling richer for having done so.

I’ve joined networking organisations such as the brilliant WiRE (Women in Rural Enterprise). What a pleasure to be in a network with other women, hear their stories and make connections. I’ve attended the groups with openness, curiosity and a generous spirit and have been amazed at how open and generous everyone is in return. I’ve made connections, generated ideas, and been signposted to new contacts and opportunities.

An attitude of openness has resulted in unexpected links being forged and existing links evolving. At the recent WiRE conference, I got chatting with a fellow coach who, I discovered, lives just down the road from me. She signposted me to a local coaching network which I have now joined. At my Zumba class, I got chatting with a woman I’d seen at the class for years but never properly spoken to before, it turns out that she, like me, is an NLP practitioner. We’re now working on a project together developing a course.

Step 2 - I wonder what I’m going to find out today?

Don’t always think “What am I going to get out of this?”. Yes, it’s good to have clear goals and objectives for meetings, but networking is a looser and more nuanced process that doesn’t neatly fit in a target orientated box. Sometimes it’s also okay to just go with the flow. Network with an open mind and you’ll be amazed at the results.

Step 3 - Always follow up

Where I’ve made a specific individual connection, I always follow up. Some of these have led to a new connection on LinkedIn, others have turned into regular coffee meet ups, especially with other women who started their businesses at a similar time. It’s great to have some mutual support.

Step 4 - Be pro-active

I have also reached out to former colleagues and old contacts from previous jobs. I ignored that inner gremlin that pops up every now and again saying “Who do you think you are? Why would they want to hear from you?” My inner dialogue countered this with “What’s the worst that can happen?” So, I sent out emails and re-kindled connections via LinkedIn. Some of those contacts ignored me, some replied wishing me luck and a few have been in touch with paid consultancy work. One former colleague and friend has helped me make a connection that has led to a regular longer- term consultancy contract.

Step 5 - Ask for help and help others along the way too

I have asked for help along the way and most people are happy to give it; whether it’s asking for a contact or an idea or roping my husband into helping with my website. I’ve also been very willing to offer help others and shared by contacts and knowledge with others.

If, like me, you are starting your own business or you are just looking to be more successful in your current role; don’t underestimate the power of building your networks and relationships. Be open to opportunities and pro-active enough to realise them.

Advice I wish I’d been given, and advice I’d now give:

· Reach out with an open mind and curiosity

· Be pro-active, join networks and put yourself out there

· Act on the contacts you get – follow up

· Be generous with your time and help others

· Be your genuine self

· Fight those inner gremlins and self-limiting beliefs – what’s the worst that can happen?

Ask others for help

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