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Can you turn networking into something you enjoy vs dread?

In much the same way as I've started to feel differently about fear (see my first blog - what could happen if you embrace the fear?) I've also realised I'm feeling differently about networking. Good different - and that’s surprised me.

It was the one aspect about starting up on my own that made me most nervous. This might come as a surprise to those who know me well. I’m an extrovert and true to type I thrive on talking problems and ideas through with others. So what’s the problem?

I think the key issue was my perception. The term made me think of awkwardly standing around at conferences and events, trying to either build up the courage to talk to someone you want to meet or trying to get away from someone dull/unpleasant/ insert. Sound familiar?

Some people thrive on this, but not many. But is that what networking really is? Is that what I need right now? I think the answer is networking is changing and for me there have been some big upsides I hadn’t seen coming.

So firstly what is networking for me? If you work in a large corporate like I have for the last 7 years networking can often be very internally focussed. For me building that network was a key part of my role - I wouldn’t have to been able to develop the operating model for new products like Sky Store or Sky Mobile without getting people from across the business to all work together, and to do that you have to know the right people (or at least who can tell you who they are).

But that wasn’t scary at all (well most of the time but that’s a topic for another day!) and I didn’t think of it as networking. I should have because that’s exactly what it was and I was good at it. And even more importantly I enjoyed it.

So armed with the feeling I might be better at this than I thought, what about external networking? At Sky, most of my external network was driven from founding and chairing Sky’s parenting network, Parents@Sky and co-founding the Women in Leadership Initiative. From finding contacts at other corporates doing the same thing so I could build case studies and share learnings with them to sourcing partners to deliver the programme of workshops, events and webinars. All of this was external.

Setting up on my own has been different again. By definition it’s all external, but the big surprise is it doesn’t feel like that. Far more people than I expected have reached out to me in response to either my blog or having seen me speak or in the press. Some are potential clients, some are other specialists in the field (coaches, trainers, recruiters and so on) and others simply working women and parents with a story to tell. The one thing they all have in common is a passion to make a difference. And that feels amazing. To find that like minded group of people who I love talking to and help move my thinking on. To create the partnerships that will help me achieve my goals.

And that seems like the right definition of networking to me. It’s also where the upside I mentioned comes in.

I’ve realised not only do I need to do this to launch my business, but I want to. I enjoy it. And it’s helped me look at those essential industry events differently - they’re now an opportunity to catch up with an old colleague or meet a new contact in person.

I feel incredibly grateful to those who have reached out to me in recent weeks. It’s inspiring to know I’m not alone, and heartwarming to receive offers of help. So thank you to those people and if you’re reading this and wanting to reach out - please do!

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