- Networking is important for your business, even if it doesn’t come naturally
- It can be used to find new clients and share information with your peers
- Online and offline networking activity can be combined to grow your list of contacts and make the most of your opportunities
When you set up on your own, the business world can feel like a lonely place. You’ve got a business, but do you know how to track down new clients? Grant Venner, who set up Brand Semiotics ten years ago, tells us how he learnt to embrace the art of networking.
What aspect of networking do you get the most out of?
I seek out people who do similar things and compare notes. It’s good to share your experiences with others and reassuring to know that you’re not the only one going through the peaks and troughs that inevitably come with being self-employed. My trade – which is an academic way of looking at brand communication – is a fairly small world, so sharing knowledge is invaluable.
If you had your time setting up a business again, is there anything you would do differently?
I would certainly try to network more effectively. When you first set up a business, you think that everyone will come flocking to you and it doesn’t work like that. I didn’t have the faintest idea of how to network; I just had to work it all out. After a while, you find the people that you like working with and they recommend you to other potential clients, but those early days are more difficult.
So how did you get your first bit of business?
Initially, I was very lucky. I went for an interview with someone who was looking for some part-time resource. They liked the way I worked and ended up using me regularly. If I hadn’t found that one client, I think I’d have found setting up on my own quite difficult.
In a digital sense, has a lot changed since you started up?
Yes, LinkedIn is an obvious resource. I have a LinkedIn profile and people connect with me, but what I really find useful are the groups. You can join groups for your specific industry; people will pose a question and then there’ll be an open forum below. It not only allows you to keep on top of what other people are thinking, but the chances are quite high that someone will remember something you posted and get in touch later.
What have been your networking challenges?
I’m not a ‘natural’ networker and the work I do mostly involves thinking and writing. I guess I always hoped my work would speak for itself. If you work for yourself and don’t really like the business-getting and social element of things, you have to work hard to overcome this.