Networking without the 'ick': it is possibleApr 22, 2022
One thing I have heard a lot of from the creative small business owners that are members of the Creativity Found community, as well as from podcast guests, is that they really don’t like the sales and marketing aspect of the business. Nancy Fellows of Creatful says ‘I don’t like being salesy, it triggers horrible feelings like doubt and imposter syndrome’ and Mary Broddle (Mary Broddle Embroidery) points out that marketing and brand awareness are ‘far from my comfort zone’.
When I mention networking as an alternative, terror strikes, and I can understand why, with visions of 2-minute pitches, business-card bombing and awkward silences just some of the reasons why people are put off going to networking events, whether in real life or online.
So, I would like to tell you a story of how the Creativity Found podcast was born and how much influence networking had on that creation. I will also include some stories of real friendships made.
You can read about my top five insights into practical ways to make your networking experiences a pleasure, not a chore, plus a guide to composing your elevator pitch (your introduction to you and what you do) so you feel prepared and ready to tell others about your great business before you sign up for the your first meeting, by subscribing to the Creativity Found mailing list.
I had a very bad impression of networking, after a male friend had told me he was trying to grow his sales-based business by going to ‘awful breakfast meetings’. I thought it must be all corporate-jargon and pushy sales techniques, and at the time had no need of such things anyway.
A few years later and I felt I had gone as far as I could with flyers and social-media posts with regards to promoting the drama and singing classes for adults that I was running. I had started Open Stage Arts after a counsellor I was seeing while suffering from horrible anxiety showed me that I had nothing in my wheel of life that was just for me, for enjoyment. I tried a few classes but didn’t really find what I wanted, so I started hosting fun theatre-arts classes that didn’t require anyone to learn lines or have any experience of performing – nor want to perform – as a form of escapism for myself and others. (I do get the irony, I was supposed to be escaping myself, not starting a new business!).
So, wanting to get the word out about what I was doing, I started thinking about whether networking was right for me and Open Stage Arts. I started small, with a local mums networking group I had seen posting on Facebook. The first meeting I went to was in a lovely café in central Oxford, where we ate cake, had a chat and heard a really informative but relaxed talk from Ela Wassell. The group was run by Mina Leal-Birch, and it was there that I met Kate Butcher – pay attention, these names will come up again! Other people had business cards – I didn’t – and a good, practised intro to what they do – I didn’t – and I left feeling invigorated and connected. Plus, I had a few ideas about some things I could do to help grow Open Stage Arts.
Encouraged and buoyed by this first experience, I attended a few more meetups with the same group, and tried other events, such as a very informal meet-and-chat one run by Ela (I said the names would come up again!) where no structure was laid out and everyone mingled and chatted about their businesses and about themselves – for some I know this would be a petrifying ordeal, even scarier than speaking individually to a group of people, but a big part of successful and happy networking is in finding the type of group and format that suits you best (I talk more about this in Networking Without The ‘Ick’: 5 Insights into Making Networking a Pleasure, Not a Chore).
It's not all roses
As I branched out I did attend some events that really didn’t suit me. The one where we had to write numbers on business cards indicating the three people we wanted to speak to one-to-one for two minutes. Ugh, it was like being picked last for the sports team, and I knew that no-one there really wanted to speak to me, because my business was not going to help them grow or sell their products (more about how good networkers are not there to sell you their products in Networking Without The ‘Ick’: 5 Insights into Making Networking a Pleasure, Not a Chore). A couple of people HAD to speak to me – it’s a numbers game – but I could see them eyeing up other people in the room as they did so, and the person who had invited me to the meeting just wanted to sell me their various membership packages, she had no interest in me whatsoever. I soon unsubscribed from that mailing list.
One time I walked into a new event and immediately turned around and walked straight back out – it was just too busy and not my scene; so I had a cup of tea and piece of cake in a nearby café instead!
But overall I persevered, and found two fabulous groups that I stuck with – one I am still a member of now, the other sadly didn’t continue once we went into lockdown.
People person – who knew?
I have been a freelance book editor, working from home, since 1998, so my working life is pretty solitary, and I thought I liked it that way. When I started Open Stage Arts, and began hanging out with other people in our classes, and then began attending networking meetings, I realized that a part of my anxiety was related to isolation and loneliness. With a fab husband and great children it feels disrespectful to say I was lonely, but with the children growing up meaning I had less interaction with other grown-ups through toddler groups and such, it dawned on me that loneliness was something I was experiencing.
I found that I really enjoyed hearing about other people and what they were up to at the meetings I attended, and loved catching up with the same people again and again. One of the themes that others discussed when I spoke about Open Stage Arts was how they had not done anything creative since leaving school or university, and how they’d like to do so again – can you see where this is going?!
I am getting closer to the story of how the Creativity Found podcast properly started, honest!
During the weekend of March 21st and 22nd I saw a Facebook post (possibly, maybe somewhere else) for an online coffee morning with the Oxford Collective. I did not know who these people were, but with a lockdown looming – I had already cancelled future OSA classes and the dance fitness classes I teach – I thought I’d give it a go. I have to say that the group of regulars on the weekly meetings that followed were a life saver during the whole of the rest of 2020.
For two hours every Monday morning I chatted with Amy Sheldrake (then Johnson), Marilyn Ching, Ella Barrington, Lucy Hall, and Mel Cunningham, with others also popping in and out.
Amy and Marilyn were involved with the Circle NGO who were putting on online fundraising events, so I booked to join one of those events, which I thought was about video editing (relevant at the time because I put my fitness classes online). In fact, the majority of the event was about how you can use an app called Anchor to create podcast episodes. So I have Amy and Marilyn to thank for giving me the idea that I could grasp the technology behind podcasting – I don’t use Anchor, I can explain more about that in the future.
I was then invited to join a Facebook Group about launching a podcast by Kate Butcher (remember her, from my first ever networking meeting?). I am very much of the opinion that if someone invites me to something and all I have to do is turn up, then why not? You never know when you might just pick up a nugget of useful into or contact details (see Networking Without The ‘Ick’: 5 Insights into Making Networking a Pleasure, Not a Chore for more on that topic). I commented in the group that I had no interest in podcasting but was just interested in the processes. To which Kate replied ‘You have a lot of content’.
And so the idea was born, to tell the stories of some of the people I had met who had given up a creative pursuit only to re-find it (of find something brand new) as grown-ups.
I hired Mel to come and take some professional photos, encompassing my role as founder of OSA and a dance teacher, along with some ‘me’ ones that I could use when promoting the podcast – you might have seen them, with my tropical green wallpaper, or with my teapot.
The Oxford Collective ladies are great friends now, we had a socially distanced picnic in the summer of 2020, and managed to meet in a restaurant in 2021. Ella Barrington invited me to be a panellist at an International Women’s Day event and Marilyn Ching gave my name to the Circle NGO whom I joined as a speaker for a masterclass on starting a podcast with host of the Global Goalscast, Edie Lush (find out more about opportunities like this that I have benefited from as a result of networking in Networking Without The ‘Ick’. . . blah de blah you get the idea).
In early 2021 Mina Leal-Birch (again, from that very first meetup) had some invitations to Clubhouse, the audio app in Beta testing, and I took her up on one. Considered a social-media app, Clubhouse has been a great networking space for me, introducing me to podcast guests from around the world, connecting me with business specialists who I can recommend to Creativity Found members when they need specific help, and bringing me new, proper friends – here I am having a fabulous time with Andrea MacLeod, Furrah Syed and Rabiah Coon (and Rabiah’s friend Dan) when we met to visit the Other Art Fair together in March 2022, to support another Clubhouse friend, Kate Mayer, who was exhibiting.
It was here that I first met money-saving guru Maddy Alexander-Grout and Nicola Toner business strategist and crowdfunding expert, both of whom I network with at various online meetups now, and I list as useful contacts in the Resources Pack that members have access to.
Here I am have tea and cake with Maddy and my daughter using a discount app that Maddy introduced me to at Muse in Southampton.
Towards the end of 2022 I attended the Digital Women Awards ceremony – as a finalist in two categories – and met some people that are really useful to know with regards to running a digital business.
At the International Women's Podcast Awards – where I was also a finalist – I got to mix with some podcast pals I have previously met online, and some brand new connections.
In November 2022 I started attending a new group in my local Oxford area, called The Brand Collective – with the aforementioned Ela Wassell as a founder member – which in turn introduced me to an online Creative Networking monthly meetup with Kelly Drewett, where we chat while creating.
It is currently March 2023 and this year already I have been to some big events, including the Startup Show by Enterprise Nation, and Digital Women Live in Birmingham.
And I have loved them all.
AND, best of all, myself and friends I have made purely through starting Creativity Found met up to visit the Other Art Fair this year too. (Plus a spot of lunch first of course!)
If my uplifting story(!) has convinced you that going to networking meetings might not be hideous after all, and want to know more about how to make the most of the events you do go to, then you need my 5 Insights into Making Networking a Pleasure, Not a Chore (we know that Claire, you keep banging on about it!).
All you need to do is sign up to the Creativity Found mailing list and in a few days time this resource will float into your inbox.
A Creativity Found Collective membership features monthly online meetups, sometimes free-flowing, sometimes guided by guest speakers or demonstrators. It is a really friendly way to ease yourself in to networking with small businesses that teach creative activities or that use their business expertise to help small businesses thrive and grow.
If you are not yet a member of the Collective you can book to attend a meetup on Eventbrite.
Creativity Found Collective
The Creativity Found Collective is a membership for artists and crafters who share their creative skills with grown-ups through workshops, online courses, products or subscriptions. It is also a membership for business-support enterprises who use their expertise to help those artists and crafters to grow their businesses.
We promote their offerings on the website and connect them with a network of like-minded business owners.
All of this is backed up by the Creativity Found podcast, in which I chat with grown-ups who have found or re-found their creativity later in life.
You can find out more about the Creativity Found Collective membership here.
And don't forget, you can subscribe to the mailing list here.