Tag Archives: community

The Communication Connection

Communication allows people to connect and throughout time we have all wanted some degree of connectivity with our fellow humans. Times change and people connect in different ways. 2011 was the year I embraced twitter -a little late I know- but maybe I was supposed to be a little late to the party. It just makes connecting with people so much easier and I’m sure if I had joined earlier it would have been easier still as the place wasn’t so crowded.

The thing that worked for me as I started my life in the twittersphere was just to do my own thing. I didn’t read guides on how to get more followers and how to use it for marketing, what to tweet about, or whether it should be about my personal life or my work life. I did ask a few people about what they did in the offline world but I did pretty much what I would in life-  I just hung out, started listening to some conversations and then slowly join in. There was no big strategy, I followed people’s whose values resonated with mine, people I was interested in and started sharing the knowledge I had. Given what was happening in my life this year, I inevitably wrote lots about start-up businesses, issues affecting young people, communication and also tennis! What was required was to understand how the technology worked but that didn’t faze me, I guess the most difficult thing was limiting everything to 140 characters!

Tweets are just mini-conversations and they work best when they are real, relevant and connect with their audience. Once you’re comfortable about the technology, then it is no different from any other conversation- work out what your message is and transmit. Sometimes these conversations are with specific people but usually they are to the twittersphere in general, people get interested and then they engage with you (by following you, retweeting you or replying to you). It’s amazing who you can get to know and what can happen. I have connected with people I didn’t know previously and have subsequently met them- some are becoming friends, others clients- all from 140 characters!

I wanted to acknowledge the following people for what they added to my twitter journey this year and they fully embody what I love about twitter. They are #mytoptweeps2011, so in no particular order:

  1. @matt_hodkinson – Matt’s tweets are informative, funny and make the world of social media hugely accessible. He engages with you and has fully used twitter to his advantage and now makes regular appearances on the BBC- something that came about from one tweet.
  2. @jonathanfields – I followed Jonathan because he was tweeting about being an entrepreneur and being creative. I was instantly hooked and this year I really took on the wisdom he so generously shared through his tweets and blogs.
  3. @Kent_Healy – Kent had a phenomenal year (read his review of 2011 here), but he only appeared on my radar half way through 2011. He is an entrepreneur writing about approaching things in a ‘uncommon way’ and when he was passing through London in late October I got to meet him and his lovely wife.
  4. @DjokerNole – You don’t need to be a tennis fan to appreciate Novak Djokovic’s tweets. His tweets work because they are directed to his fans and are so humble, appreciative and also funny. Although he doesn’t follow many people he still manages to engage in conversation- many a business and celebrity could learn a thing a two from this man.
  5. @DavidMcQueen – David is a friend in the offline world but having his daily tweets in my life meant that it strengthened the original connection. We were already connected on Facebook but twitter allowed for those quick exchanges, the ability to draw others into the conversation- and he knows a lot of people!
  6. @FreeRangeHumans – Marianne was an early tweep that I followed and started engaging in conversation with. I loved what she stood for (escaping the 9-5 and leading a location independent lifestyle) and she struck the right balance between tweeting about her business and personal life.
  7. @LollyDaskall – If there was one word to describe Lolly it would be ‘generous’. Lolly really got me thinking about how I talked to individuals on twitter and also introduced me to personalised ‘Follow Fridays’. I really started to take more care over my tweets after getting some insight from Lolly.
  8. @SangeetaHaindl – I met Sangeeta at a Personal Branding Workshop I attended in April and started following her after that. What I love about Sangeeta is her ability curate interesting news information- the news she finds can sometimes be quirky or simply offer a new take on something that is going on. She’s also very speedy at getting the news out there.
  9. @Okwonga – Musa was an old university friend with whom I had Family Law tutorials. I love his tweets because they are ‘Musa Okwonga’. He has an ability to tweet about sport, his poetry and spoken word gigs in the same breath as politics and controversies in the world without it seeming disjointed and without pulling any punches.
  10. @Melody_Hossaini – Melody was on the UK version of ‘The Apprentice’ when she came to my attention. She was running a social enterprise and her work was similar to mine and I wanted to talk to her. I had seen her work website with an info e-mail address but thought that she was probably getting inundated as ‘The Apprentice’ was being aired at the time. I tweeted her business twitter and the next day I was speaking to her. She’s great because she talks to her followers all the time and I know that makes a huge difference to people who follow her.

Thank you to all the people who I follow and have connected with this past year who have made twitter a place I like being.

What are your experiences of twitter and who are your top tweeps of the year? Comment below or on twitter via the hashtag #mytoptweeps2011. You can follow me on twitter @sufiyapatel

Tagged , , , ,

Networking Not Working

I tend not to go to many formal networking events these days. I don’t particularly like people thrusting a business card into my hands only to get mine in return and then bombard me with sales and marketing e-mails, or those that move on when they decide a communication trainer is perhaps not a potential client. Instead, I make time to go to events that I am interested in, perhaps a talk at the RSA, a book launch, an opening of an exhibition or an event at Central. I often see familiar faces and there are many new ones too. This provides me with all that I need and I enjoy the experience too.

First let’s look at why ‘networking’ events can be a painful experience for me and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

1. Pretence (e.g. I’m not after clients, I really just want to meet new people’)

There comes a time when some people feel they need to go to a networking event and it’s usually because they need some more sales. So off they go. Their strategy is to get as many cards as possible, take them back to the office, enter them into the database and then proceed to call them, e-mail them and get them to be a client. Sometimes, this person also suffers from 2 and 3 below which makes life a lot harder. They pretend that they are just meeting new people and come across as insincere because they are just trying to work out if you are a potential lead. I am quite happy when someone comes up to me at  networking event and tells me they want clients (doesn’t always work if it is your opening gambit but if you say that is what you are looking for, then I will try to help).

2. You’re not worth knowing

‘So what do you do?’ After your response you may find one of two things happening. The first is that this person is very interested in you almost to the exclusion of others. They don’t let you go until they have explained the full benefits of their service/ product and they also don’t let anyone else steal you away. Contrariwise, they find a quick way to end the conversation. It doesn’t matter whether you probably had lots in common and also have access to a huge number of people who you could refer onto them, they need to find someone they think is worth their time.

3. I really don’t want to be here

This can be a symptom of no. 1. This person hates meeting people but they need more contacts and the only way to do that is to go networking. Another reason they may not want to be there is they lack confidence when meeting new people. These people often hover around the edges, waiting for someone to draw them into conversation. Often, they will be happy just to be talking to someone and can feel that networking events are not the best use of their time.

So how could it be better? It might, at this point, be worth looking at the definition of ‘networking’

a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest

I mentioned I go to events, and one of my reason for doing this is that there is some commonality of interest that draws us all there. It is a great talking point and so can help break the ice if you’re not comfortable with approaching people. I also find that I generally will get on better with people I meet at these events and therefore want to help them.

1. Know your intention

Before you go to an event work out why you want to go. If you want to get potential clients then do some research and go to events where your clients are likely to be. If you have specific people you want introductions to either find out where they will be or find out who else knows them. It can also be worth finding a guest list and asking someone to introduce you to a specific person. Are you trying to get known in your industry? Having a clear intention will help you make the most of your time at an event.

2. Strengthen relationships

Networking is not all about new contacts, it is also about strengthening and maintaining existing ones. Don’t just talk to new contacts, talk to people you already know. Indeed, they may be the one who introduces you to other people at the event. The last two events I went to I was introduced to valuable new contacts when in conversation with someone I already knew.

3. Add value in your conversations

Networking, like any team sport, creates a win when everyone plays their part. Be a valuable member of your networking community and in the individual conversations. This might be sharing some of your knowledge, offering to make an introduction. Don’t do it to get something, do it because you can.

4. Follow-through

So what do you do with that pile of cards you collected last night? Make sure you follow-up within 24 hours (48 hours if you are really busy) with an e-mail or a LinkedIn invite. With both methods make sure you personalise it by referring back to an aspect of your conversation. If you offered to introduce someone to one of your contacts then do so in a timely fashion and don’t forget to follow-up with people you already knew. I usually send an e-mail or sometimes even a text saying it was good to see them.

What are people’s experiences of networking? What tips can you offer to others?

Tagged , ,

Being Alone Together

The life of a solopreneur can be very lonely and it gets even worse when things aren’t going to plan. You get up in the morning, dreading dealing with the day ahead, who are you going to call, where is that next lead going to come from? You look through your contacts wondering ‘who can I call again?’ Deciding there’s no one, you trawl through the internet to find some meet-ups or networking events, but then decide you can’t face talking to a room full of strangers. There’s nowhere to go, all your friends are at work and the other freelancers and business owners you know are busy doing their own work.  You’re stuck, who do you turn to? Your friends and family are as supportive as they can be, but you don’t want to moan about your predicament. You were the one that went gung-ho, head-first into this venture, so you just have to carry on as best you can.

I remember feeling not too dissimilar at various points after I went solo. I just used to feel very alone and felt under huge amounts of pressure to make things happen from nothing. It was the fact that there was just me and the people who know me, know that I’m a social person; I missed the interaction with other people and staying at home was making things worse.

Fortuitously, there were two things that came into my life at about the same time earlier this year. The first was Central Bloomsbury, a co-working space just off Tottenham Court Road in Central London and the second was the Key Person of Influence Accelerator Programme, a 30-week business incubation programme. What both provided, as a by-product of their main service, was community. It’s hard to say your business isn’t going as well as you want it to without feeling like you’re undermining your credibility. However, everyone struggles and what we all need is a trusted network of people who have been through or are going through the same journey.

Central is not your average co-working space and I was immediately impressed by my first visit. The whole space is set up to allow people to collaborate both in a formal and informal way. One of their working spaces is much like a cafe where you can just strike up a conversation with another member and they also put on events to help you fill knowledge-gaps you may have, whether it is social media, marketing or getting investment. The staff is very attentive and the co-owners have an aim of supporting 1,000 grow in the next five years. Working at Central allows me to have the buzz of an office environment and in the members I have colleagues with whom I can share what is going on for me, bounce some ideas around and where in turn, I can support them if needed.

The KPI programme has also been a huge support, not just the content of the programme (which, BTW is amazing) but the generosity of the people involved. We have a Facebook group where past and current members come together. It’s a very active group and people share everything from requests for help, their successes, opportunities for other members. My programme is coming to an end but I know that I am part of this community for life. It has become a trusted network and often the first place I go to get some inspiration, offer support or get some help.

If you are on the lonely path of setting up your own business, I can’t recommend enough getting out there and joining a group of some kind- there are lots of options out there, not just the ones I have mentioned above, from Mastermind groups to online networks like Ecademy. You don’t have to go it alone and there are lots of people who want to help. Once your part of one of these groups, my top tips are to make yourself a valuable member of that community, support others and give generously- it will come back to you manifold.

It was at one of the KPI workdays that I came across the phrase ‘being alone together’. Penny Power who was running our Social Media day mentioned she had heard it somewhere (I forget where exactly) and wrote it down thinking it was a very apt description for many people I know. Certainly, it is where I am; alone but surrounded by amazing people who completely have my back.

Tagged , , , ,