Networking CAN be a nightmare!

Self-Employment can be a lonely old life. I remember “Day One” for me was pretty miserable. Sat at home, fingering the filling of a Jammy Dodger (I was comfort eating!) staring at a missed cobweb, tempted to turn on “Vasectomy Watch” or “Animals Do The Funniest Things On Acid” or whatever tripe they show on daytime TV these days!

Were there like-minded people in Shropshire who had just given up a 30-odd-thousand-pounds-a-year job for a life of navel-gazing, Pot Noodle and Monster Munch sandwiches?! I had to find out…

Fortunately, a mate’s sister (and fellow trainer) had moved back to the area from Cornwall and we were keen to explore the networking opportunities in our beautiful county. A spot of Googling later and we’d invited ourselves along to a small local forum, tempted by offers of bacon baps, Danish pastries and the opportunity to find out if there were other crazed fools out there having a mid-life crisis!

“Welcome!” said the lovely lady in a gingham two-piece on our arrival at the hotel. “You are ready to do your sixty-second spiel are you not?” Of course, we immediately lost our appetites and stood cowering like a couple of kittens in the corner! With hardly a moment to gather our composure (or to find the exit!) we were ushered to our seats by our tablecloth-wearing hostess, where fellow “networkers” gave us sideways glances, friendly nods and that “look” that says: “YUM! YUM! Fresh meat!”

And so, the introductions began…like ‘creeping death’ it was! Dianne and I weren’t listening. Liberace could have stood up in a long-line bra and we wouldn’t have twigged on! The others in the room were SO good; you could tell they’d been to the “Angela Rippon School of Sixty-Second Spiel-ness”. What on EARTH could I tell them about myself?!?! “Hello, I’m Ade and yes, I used to read the boy’s problem section of my sister’s Just Seventeen…I know what you’re thinking – that won’t get me very far in the business world, however, I do know how to clear up a decidedly bad bout of back acne!”

Dianne was eloquent (I hated her!) AND it was exactly sixty seconds long! I gave her one of my “I’ve just been turned down for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar” smiles, stood up, knees knocking more than a privy door in a thunderstorm and prepared to project my spur-of-the-moment minute.

I couldn’t to this day tell you what I said! I know I got a laugh, which helps; tumbleweed didn’t whiz past me as I sat down and the gingham goddess et al gave me a round of applause!

Remember that corner Dianne and I were cowering in? That’s where you’ll find us 45 minutes later, only this time, it’s coffee break and we’re approached by entrepreneurs keen to encircle us like rabid wolves.

“Hmmmm…nice business card!” we coo to one gentleman through gritted smiles as we unfold the equivalent of the Bayeux Tapestry! “Hi! I’m Annabel,” says a rather horsey-looking lady as she launches her card at me: “If you’re ever after a side-winding thermal body belt to take away the chill during those cold winter months at the office, I’ve got them in several colours, shapes and sizes!”

“Daaaarling! In need of coaching?” shouts across a Mrs Doubtfire look-alike, “I’ve got free taster sessions happening all next week…” by the time I’d finished chatting to her, I felt like I’d been through a serious stretch of post-natal depression, acquired a new-found inferiority complex, as well as a burning desire to self-harm with the bacon tongues on an adjacent table!

“Quick Dianne! Let’s get outta here!” If Batman and Robin appeared at a “50% Off Lycra Sale” at New Look, they couldn’t have shifted themselves any faster! We made for our bat-like ‘Trainer-mobile’ and scarpered down the driveway! A HUGE sigh of relief…

Please, dear colleagues, tell me that not ALL networking is as intimidating as this?! I’ve regressed back to the sofa, with my Jammy Dodgers and Waggon Wheels this time around! Can you tempt me out of “hiding” with more than a bacon bap?!

Stay tuned for more of Ade’s rants and rambles! You can find him at http://www.develop-meant.com

Self Employment Survivor’s Guide!

It’s “Happy Birthday” to Develop-meant Training Consultants – six years young just gone! Owner Adrian Cuzzocrea has a flashback to his first few weeks of going it alone…

Monday 26th October 2009. I awoke to my first day of self employment. At the time, it sounded far better than “unemployment”! I’d left a 20-year career in Youth Training behind me the previous Friday. Scary! I’d been in full-time employment since the age of 16 and had almost reached the top of the tree in terms of position and salary. So, what the hell was I doing?! I’d been contemplating the idea (and my navel!) for five years. Concerns around bills, the mortgage, living the life to which I’d become accustomed etc. all got in the way. It took three months with the new employer from hell, a self-help book and a week in Kos for that “light bulb moment” to manifest – “I CAN do this!” So, here I am! Not in Kos (or Kansas!) anymore, but marvellous Market Drayton, Shropshire pursuing an ambition I wish I’d realised years back (hindsight being a wonderful thing and all that). What a rollercoaster ride of emotions! Which got me to thinking there may just be others in the same predicament as I was; toying with the idea of making the leap into self employment. Here are my survival tips for the first few weeks:

  • Day 1 is incredibly surreal. Grant yourself “annual leave”. Allow 24 hours for the “self employment” concept to sink in. Keep saying to yourself “I AM actually doing this!” rather than questioning “AM I actually doing this?!”
  • Do as much research as possible. Your PC and the Internet will be your bestest buddies. Business start-up courses are incredibly reassuring, too. When you listen to the other entrepreneurial ideas in the room you’ll think: “Maybe I’m not so crazy after all?!”
  • Set yourself objectives for each day. Don’t have a “lie in” or turn the TV on! There are so many temptations working from home. When I designed training courses for the Careers service, I’d look out of my office windows for inspiration. Now I look out of my living room windows thinking: “Blimey! They need cleaning!” Don’t be distracted.
  • Shop around for an accountant and a business bank account. Recommendations from people you know are by far the best. Don’t compare and contrast reviews online. People don’t gush on the net about how wonderful their banks are; they write reviews to have a good old moan.
  • Network! Network! Network! Suss out the small business groups running in your area and invite yourself along. The first couple of meetings are usually free and if you’re lucky, you might get a buffet or a bacon sarnie! Go armed with business cards. You can design your own online at a great price. However, word of warning – don’t spread yourself too thinly. You could spend all your time networking and for what? Think carefully about where you network. Don’t be a “busy fool”.
  • Consider Social Networking, but choose your platforms wisely. Don’t believe all the hype. Are your Facebook fans interested in Neuro-Lingustic Programming?! Do colleagues on Linkedin want that Tantastic all-over glow? Are you Tweeting like a canary but not really engaging with your Followers?
  • Don’t be tempted to just go for ANY old work that comes your way. You’ve become self employed for a reason – you want to ENJOY it! Don’t take contracts or work with people that you’re unsure about. Get to know folk, determine their way of working and their ethos. OK, so, there may be some financial reward in the short term, but some people will drive you crackers and drag you down. Think about your sanity and happiness in the long term!
  • And finally – take some time for yourself! Don’t feel guilty if you’re not sat in front of your laptop waiting for emails, or designing your business cards, or planning your latest marketing campaign, or sweating over your accounts, or updating your business plan, or…or…or!! I had a HUGE guilt complex when I first started out. I knew there was washing in the machine to hang out, but I just HAD to finish the article I was writing. I knew that Jack, Louie and Levi needed feeding (they’re my cats by the way, not my triplets!) but I just HAD to put the finishing touches to the presentation I was working on. I knew there was a big wide world out there and I desperately needed to go to Wilko’s for bin bags, but I just HAD check out who’d been nosing on my website! Keep calm, it will all still be there when you get back!