Networking… not a very British pastime

“I guess it’s been a journey, as for most people,” says Laurie Bernard, CEO of The Business Services Partnership, a firm he set up in 1992 to provide business development and marketing counselling, alongside training and mentoring.

The journey he’s talking about is the move from a corporate world with which he’d become disillusioned, to a path all of his own making. “I wanted to be in charge of my own destiny,” he says. “I realised I no longer wanted to be at the beck and call of somebody in some grey office somewhere in the world. For right or for wrong, I no longer wanted to be told what to do, so I took control of my own destiny and started my own business.”

And there’s been no looking back. Laurie, who will be running a workshop on networking at a forthcoming AAT branch event later this year, is genuinely passionate about what he does, whether its inspiring people to take the plunge into setting up their own business, then growing that business, showing people how to harness social media marketing or training people to become elite networkers. “I get a thrill from seeing people succeed and stop making the mistakes I’ve seen others make, be it myself, my family, or other businesses, so it’s great to see people grow and succeed.”

The many thousands of people who have crossed Laurie’s path include a dog walker who decided to go down a different route and set up the HungryHouse takeaway company, to people at a training session who went on to set up the Innocent smoothie brand. “It’s been a great reward to be able help people make something of their lives, I get a real buzz out of it, out of training people.”

Networking… not a very British pastime

One of Laurie’s key philosophies in business is treat other people how you want to be treated yourself. “I think that’s really important,” he says. “What we’re looking to achieve at the workshop is to show people how to make connections and maintain those relationships, physically how to work a room, how to develop networking techniques, how to use social media effectively, to build a profile on LinkedIn, and to avoid some of the pitfalls of using social media.

“Hopefully people will come away feeling more confident about networking and understand how to use it to gain business, to widen their contacts and subsequently get more referral business by building a reputation as a person to be connected to.”

But that’s easier said than done with us often reserved Brits. Generally speaking, we don’t feel comfortable blowing our own trumpet, we like to be seen and not heard. “But when you get into a networking environment it’s like being in a sales exhibition, people come to hear your story and if they like what you’ve got to offer, then at some point they might buy what you’ve got or, even better, recommend you to someone else,” says Laurie. “This is the power of networking, building trust with people whereby they’re happy to part with their money or recommend you to more people.”

Unlike Americans, people in the UK don’t know how to work a room, says Laurie. “They don’t realise that they’ve not just gone to a networking event to have a cup of coffee and talk about themselves. You need to identify what you want to achieve from the meeting and then follow up afterwards. Send people follow up emails reiterating what you said, or maybe talk to them on a regular basis. It’s just a way of making a connection that’s warm as opposed to totally cold.

“Whether you’re networking face-to-face or electronically, people buy people first, and people want to know what you can achieve for them, not what you can achieve for yourself,” says Laurie. “Networking is very much about being useful to somebody else and being perceived as an expert in your field, but you’ve got to work on it.”

Laurie’s top three networking tips

  1. Ensure you are networking with the right people e.g. fish in the right pool. Where possible research who’ll be attending an event, or check to see whether there’s a theme relevant to particular industries.
  2. Preparation: plan and rehearse your ‘elevator pitch’, e.g. what are you going to say about the benefits of your business from the listener’s viewpoint?
  3. Follow-up after the event: a simple email saying it as a pleasure to meet, going over what you talked about, offering more detail, or providing links to websites, blogs or previous work.

“I think it’s the bible that has a saying, give a man a meal and he eats for a day, but teach him how to fish and he’ll feed his family for a lifetime, and I guess that aligns with what inspires me to do what I do.”

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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