For me and my
business, networking has been a key element since I first started, well over 15
years ago now. I’ve always been good at
talking to people, whether that be people I know or people that I’ve just
met. I can engage in conversation and I
can chat and relate to people quite well.
This comes back from my background in community development work, where
I’d often be stood in a room, having to talk to so many different people about
so many different things and I was used to talking in depth about both myself
and the reason I was there, but also about the problems and potential
solutions. This interaction with people
has always been strong.
Bringing that into
my business, when I launched my business initially, like everyone, it very much
started with me putting some pictures out there and somebody going, ‘I’d like
that.’ So, I’ll do some headshots and
somebody asked me about headshots. And all
of my work was coming through word of mouth.
Now, that was great for me to start off with because there was already a semi-open door when I turned up to meet a client because they’d been
referred to me by somebody else – whether that was somebody I know or a
previous client perhaps. That ease into
the relationship just made things a little bit easier.
So, fast-forward to
now, it’s still a very much important part of my business and it will be going
forward, is to keep building relationships, honing relationships, and
maintaining those relationships over a longer period of time. Just because you speak to somebody today
doesn’t mean they’re going to book you tomorrow. It doesn’t mean they’re going to book you in
six months, it doesn’t mean they’re going to book you in a year. But you know what? They might book you. But what they also might do is turn into
what we all want from these things, which is for somebody to be your advocate. When you turn up to sell yourself, whether
that’s to sell your services or to chat to people, you’re in transmit, you’re
in sales mode, even if you don’t feel it.
I don’t often feel like I’m a salesman, but actually, in any room, I go into,
I am technically selling because I’m talking about myself and my business.
In a room of people,
if you don’t know anybody, you’re your only business advocate. You’re the only person talking about
you. What I’ve found is that over those
years, if you can find those key people that absolutely get you, if you can get
somebody else – even one more person to talk about your business with the
passion that you always give it, then there are two people. So if you’re in a big conference where there are two people and somebody says the word ‘photography,’ you’re talking
about it, obviously but then somebody else is talking about it, even if it’s
not their business, they know enough about you and your business because of
that relationship that you’ve built. “Go
and speak to Gavin about photos!” That’s
obviously on a micro-scale, but that’s the same thought process that you should
have at any networking that you walk into.
Networking is a
strange word. Businesses and companies
talk about networking quite a lot. There are a lot of organisations that push networking, to get people together in a
room. And there’s also the flip side
where a lot of people don’t particularly like talking to big groups of people
or in groups of people. Now as I said
earlier, I’m okay with talking in groups of people, but not everybody is. But even suggesting that networking needs
to be a significant part of your business, can put people off. If you’re getting work by other means,
whether that’s the website, or it’s YouTube videos that you do, or all the
plethora of other sources of places where you can get work, other marketing
opportunities, then that’s great. But
for me, long-term as I say, it’s a good 10, 15 years deep now. If you can keep those relationships going,
there’s a chance every month you can get something, “Oh such and such has just
passed me your details,” or “Oh, could we have a chat because so and so’s just
passed me your details?” That sort of
stuff is really key to the business and really key to getting established as a
name and a brand in a local area.
As you know, I’m
based in the North East of England and it’s often referred to as a very small
place. There are a lot of connections
and there are a lot of people who know each other and networking is a strong
thing around the North East. In any week
there’ll be 50 events that you could turn up to, easily 50 events, more than
that, 100 events that you could just turn up to, have a chat with some people, and potentially lead you to some work.
So, as you read this, you’re thinking that my suggestion is that you get
out there and get every bit of networking that is possible. No chance!
I’m very much a statistician when it comes to justifying time. I’ve done all the networking in the past,
I’ve given everything a go, and I’ve tried all of them. Maybe I’ve tried them all so you don’t have
Because often when
you’re starting your business or when you’re just getting established and you
see people at these events and there are 100 or 200 people in the room, all the
potential clients are stood there. But
are they really your potential clients?
If you were stood in that room that everybody else is stood in, would
you really be able to sell to all those people?
Would work come flying at you?
Maybe, but maybe not. And I think
there is a perception that because you’re out networking and being seen, that’s going to bring work just because they see your face and they know a name
or they know a brand or a business.
That’s never going to be the way.
They’ll know a little bit about
you. Maybe what you do as in your
business name, Gavin Forster Photography suggests what I do for a living. I’m not a florist. But to be in everything?
with breakfast networking, mid-afternoon, and evening networking, it could be at
three different sessions in a day. Now
that’s a big day. And yes, we can’t
quantify fully every lead that comes in and we can’t always tie it back to a
single moment where I walked into that room and £1,000 came from that client
because of the chat at that point. The first time I met them was at this point, that’s where this journey to a job came
from. That’s very tricky and some
businesses can do that. I find it a
little bit hard to go that deep.
But what I am now
good at is being able to source it into specific pots. So I know I get a lot of my business through
networking on the golf course and I know exactly how much money has been
brought in from me being on the golf course.
And that knowledge alone backs up that thing I said before about, “I’ve
got to be everywhere.” You don’t need to
be everywhere, you need to be at the things that work. So financially, my golf networking brings me
in a significant chunk of my yearly income.
So I keep doing it. There are
some other networking that I used to do a bit ad hoc or I would go along to and
when I look back on it, how many new clients, how many new discussions or how
many interesting shoots have I got on the back of it? And if I had to write a zero next to that,
then what’s it for? It was for me to
feel better that I’d been out there and been seen and got a couple of social media
shots. Okay, that might lead to
something, you know, you push your LinkedIn because of the back of the content
you created at that event. Maybe that’s
worth it. But you’ve always got to go
through the justification process of any room that you walk in for any length
of time. Because time is money and
ultimately, we’re all in this for business and business means money. And if it’s not making money, it’s not a
business. So we could all be
professional networkers and be at everything.
But if we’re not doing the day job, then we’re not making any money. And if we’re not making money, it’s not a
So how do you make
that justification? So I do have it in
kind of three avenues. And they are
first, money. Secondly, direct clients
from that route. Tertiary clients, obviously
secondary connections, so somebody in there will refer you onto their network
and the work comes in then. And there’s
also the other one which is either the more creative side or the more
interesting side. When you walk in a
room, if you can get work in a room and you’re in there going, “Great, there are 10 people in this room that want new headshots for LinkedIn and I get three of
those booked in in the next week, how fantastic is that?” Now, the chances of
that happening are obviously sort of slim, but it might happen, so it’s worth
taking that into account, and worth keeping a track of any really good
conversations that you had at networking.
So then the
tertiary one is that little bit less tangible.
So, you met Alice at a networking event and all of a sudden her business
partner Dave passes you on to one of their clients who wants some new website
images. That’s a really good connection
that happened to spring from the networking that you had. But you had to have made enough of an impact
on Alice for that information to get to Dave to then get to the new
client. That’s quite a chain and being
able to do that off one meeting can happen but it’s difficult. What those sorts of relationships are built on
is time and keeping in touch, being nice to everybody and keeping things going, and
building a relationship over years.
You know, I have
work coming in from people that I haven’t spoken to in five years but they
still remember me because of the good work I did or the relationship that we
built. You’ve always got to assume that somewhere down the line people could
come back. And if you’re nice to
everybody and keep building those relationships over time, as soon as anybody else mentions photography
in this case, that’s the hook they remember.
“Ah, Gavin!” So that’s how you’ve
got to build it up, you’ve got to spend the time, you’ve got to do the
commitment, you’ve got to keep those relationships going and for me, yes, it
starts with some networking, but it’s the networking that works for you.
So what type of
networking could you do? Now like most
things in life, there are companies set up to facilitate their working. You know, there’s in the North East, for
example, you’ve got the likes of The Mussel Club and Next Generation Networking
and Network B2B and various others. In
every town and city in the world, there’ll be people setting up business clubs
and regular networking for their members.
And the reason is that if you’re signed into a group of people, usually
there’s a financial incentive for everybody to be there because they all want
to be there to make money and you have to pay for the cups of tea and bacon
sandwiches. So, there’s a commitment and
it’s usually a 12-month commitment. So
you’re in a room together, even if it’s once a month or once a week or twice a
week, you’re in the room with those people for a regular thing. You might not pick all the information out of
people’s businesses in the first six months, and you might not pick them out for a
year, maybe two years, until you find out everything that is useful to you
about somebody else’s business and that’s what these networking groups are
really, really good for – building relationships. Even if it’s only a little snippet every
time, after a year, you really know a business more than you did if you only
met them once at networking. So, it’s
about building and supporting each other and helping people.
extreme of that is things like BNI, which are a real structured networking,
where you’re pushed and you have to make referrals and you have to push other
people’s businesses, which speed-wise facilitates that relationship building in
a different way because you have to know everything about everybody’s
business because you need referrals every week. And that is financially successful for a lot
of people. I mean for me and my life,
that early morning networking every week just isn’t possible. I’ve got a little one to get to school and
those sorts of commitments make it incredibly difficult to do structured
networking in that way. But I don’t rule
it out for people to have a look at because it can fast-track the relationship-building
element and work comes in obviously on the back of it.
Then there’s free
networking. A lot of business
development managers end up at free networking, that is usually at the likes of
a business hub or a larger business that want to bring smaller businesses in. There’s always an ulterior motive at the back
of it. But I mean, as I say, the big
networking that’s organised, there are financial incentives obviously, because
they want to keep the money coming in, to keep the businesses going. But on the flip side, with smaller networking, there
can be plenty of free networking out there.
But they’re usually set up to facilitate something else. So if it’s a Financial Advisors’ networking,
there’s a few of those around and actually it’s about getting more clients in
their wider network, again over a long period of time, you’re not going to just
turn up to networking and go, “Yes, I’ll sign my stuff over to you straight
away,” but then you’re meeting them every month, so it softens things up.
So it’s figuring
out which one works for you. And there are no right or wrong answers in networking, I think everybody should be networking
to some point out there in person just to get their face out there and known in
their local area. But I totally
appreciate it’s not everybody’s wheelhouse and the confidence of walking into a
room and going, “Hello, hello, let’s talk to you,” kind of thing is often
difficult. But I think at least on a
monthly basis, I think it’s very good for a business to last a long term, to
have a little bit of that, not necessarily all of it, but a little bit of it.