I have to admit it;I hated networking! I used to be sent along to events by my firm and had absolutely no idea how to go about it. Put me in front of an audience of 250 people with a lectern and a laptop with a PowerPoint presentation and I wouldn't bat an eyelid! Ask me to go into a room full of strangers and join in a conversation....not a clue! Once I started my own consultancy and realised that you get no clients sitting in a room at home in front of a computer and hope somebody finds you, I decided to grit my teeth and jump in the deep end. And you know what? I actually enjoy it!

However I am learning stuff about what sort of networks suit me and what I can actually get out of it quite quickly. Not all networks suit everyone. For example, the hard sell does nothing for me and pushes all the wrong buttons. So certain styles of network involving closed shops and large subscriptions are not for me. I have also found that it is not all about selling."Of course it is!" I hear the cry and obviously, you want people to buy your service or product but actually it is also about potentially buying too.

We all know that people buy people and sometimes either there is no one in the room that suits your product or service but also it can be that your face just doesn't fit. However, if you persist with the right networks and get to know the people, you can find it quite rewarding. How many of you strike gold on your first visit? The day I walk into a room and I get the "your just the person I wanted to meet, can I ask you for an appointment to discuss my needs" line I think it will be time to retire! But being patient not only gives someone like me a better chance of success but can also help me find the right people to buy from who suit MY needs. When you work on your own particularly, you cannot always be self-sufficient and you need people who can help your business and can potentially be of help to your clients and customers too.

I probably visit 3 networks regularly and dip into 3 or 4 others periodically.Do I enjoy it? It varies as it can depend on who is there and who you speak to. Not all conversations are a success! Are the larger groups more beneficial? Not always as the larger the group the more difficult it is to get to know people. Likewise small groups can be a disaster! I went to one event where 18 businesses were booked in,14 people turned up of which 3 came from the hosts and 4 were from 2 businesses leaving 6 other people plus myself. Easy to speak to everyone and 1 guy was really interesting to talk to but no-one was there who I could sell to or buy from!

Do you like everyone you meet? Inevitably NO and you quickly learn there are certain "types" of people there who annoy you rather than interest you.It may be a sweeping statement but beware of the person wearing their own badge in very large print! In my experience the size of the badge correlates to the hardness of the sell !!! But these same people who bug me might be really good for you and your business so you learn quickly how to judge what suits you. I am sure that for some people, I am not their "type" either so it is part of the joys of networking.

This is only a flavour of my experiences in the last 18 months but interestingly, despite my initial reluctance (and occasional mishaps like offering the same potential contact my business card twice in a 10 minute conversation!) it has been a steep but pleasurable learning curve.I have got to grips with the 30-60 second pitch(albeit with variable results) of which more on a future occasion. I have even become involved in the running of my favourite network! So the moral for me is be patient and opportunities will arise.

So good luck and good networking!