Yesterday I attended the Melbourne Business Awards (South East Region) Breakfast event at the lovely Woodlands Golf Course. Obviously any event at a golf course is a winner for me so this was no different.
John Walls, Group Managing Director from Acquire Learning was the guest speaker who presented on how education providers and employers can effectively work together to attract, employ and retain the best talent. The event hosted various business leaders and owners in the area of City of Kingston and surrounds and it was an opportunity for me to meet, network and to further reflect on some thing that has been eating away at me since leaving the corporate world.
Here I am in the white jacket, chatting to someone before the event started…
— Melbourne Biz Awards (@MelbBizAwards) February 26, 2015
Within one month of leaving corporate Australia into the world of freelancing, I came to a sobering realisation.
Who I originally thought would be my target market for new clients was in fact, not my market. In fact, I could apply my years of knowledge and experience to a much wider (and new) market that was in my own back yard. (So to speak).
The question I had formulating in my mind was:
“Why compete with the McKinseys and Deloittes and other big name learning vendors and providers for a share of the corporate learning and development market in the area of social networking and learning (and the tedious need to travel into the city on public transport), when in my own local area, just 10 minutes down the road, thriving business and industries are driving our state’s economy, in over 5000 industrial precincts and employing many people in our area?”
So after 24 years of working in learning and development and having every different type of role from facilitator, designer/developer, LMS administrator, project manager, consultant, learning manager in private and public organisations as well as an external consultant for an elearning courseware development vendor, I felt like I was cheating on my people. In fact, I was realising that yes, they too are my clients but in order for me to continually keep learning, building my networks and adding value (as well as this insane desire to help business grow who could then in turn, make our local community thrive), I had to look for opportunities closer to home. This meant looking at ways to get out of my comfort zone of corporate learning and development and into the new world of medium sized business and industry.
So if you have the same realisation, I would recommend that you look at this as an opportunity and not as a fear. After all, as learning and development consultants, our focus must be on helping business achieve their objectives by improving the capability of their people – I see this as no different.
(The only exception is that before, I had the security of being an ’employee’ of the company and already had a connection to my internal business clients because we were employed by the same employer, now, I have to prove myself to be trusted. Now THAT’s the scary part!)
Here are some of the things that I did to learn what’s in my back yard. Note that there are a MYRIAD of options out there – both face-to-face and online networking groups – and each group varies dependent on the target market. There are groups for women; groups for small business; medium & large size business; there are groups for industry sectors and others for ‘solopreneurs’.
My Tips for Success:
- Do your homework to see where your target market is likely to network and congregate and target these first
- Hone your elevator pitch – I can’t stress how important this is. When they ask you, “so what do you do?” be prepared to answer it in a sentence that invites interest, curiosity and more questions – not blank looks. (Take it from me….)
- Don’t forget to take a stack of business cards – I mean a STACK (many of these places have tables where you can place a stack of business cards but don’t forget to carry them with you at all times)
- Politely ask to link up with them on LinkedIn (and don’t forget to personally customise each and every one of your messages to them in the invitation)
- For those not on LinkedIn (oh, you better believe it), send them a nice email after the introduction.
Things You Can Do To Network In Your Own Area:
- Contact your Local Council
I’m quite lucky that I have three local councils in my area and each of them have a business directory, network and an event calendar of networking and training workshops. Subscribe to their newsletters and receive information on upcoming events – and go to them!
Some councils also have online business directories to subscribe to and I have included my own consulting business into this directory.
For women, there are specific business events for women (online and offline) which have their own unique dynamic and flair and I have been encouraged to go along to these as well. Personally, I don’t distinguish between events that segregate the sexes (years of working in male dominated environments such as the Navy, Defence as well as Rotary have made me appreciate what value diversity brings to our work and our business relationships however, I do appreciate that these groups enable women to share their experiences and provide a supportive environment of mutual trust and respect). I look forward to attending a women’s business event soon.
One of the goals I would like to achieve for myself this year is to volunteer my time to assist the local council business team whether it’s being a committee member or assisting in managing an event (much like what I did here as part of the Rotary International Vocational Service and Business Award). I believe the best networks I have made all came about from actively participating in local community service, sporting or hobby groups. Don’t underestimate the power of the people you know outside of your normal 9 to 5 job).
Ultimately, my dream would be to create a “Third Place” in the ‘local burbs (a co-working space in my local area) but that’s a blog post for another time.
2. Get Statistics of Your Local Area from the State Government
I pored over statistics from the Victorian Department of State Development, Business and Innovation who have a publication called the Industry Atlas of Victoria. There are also many different websites that have many resources related to industry and employment data in your local area.
If anything, they give you a snapshot of your own community beyond your front gate – something that you may have never have known (or would have need to be known) if you worked in your corporate cubicle all those years.
3. Check the Local Meetup Groups in your Area
If you want less formal and structure to your networking for business, I would recommend you check out the meetup groups in your local area (or why not even start your own like I did with Third Place?). These are great ways to meet up with business people or “solopreneurs” in your local area.
Personally, meet up groups are a bit too ‘informal and unstructured’ for the particular target market I am looking at (medium size business and industry) and also the concept is too ‘new’ for this target market given that the traditional networking opportunities through local council and business groups are still the main way of connecting.
Another option is to research vendors who provide networking services through matched conversations and who provide presentations with guest speakers and other benefits. These are paid services and have the added benefit that they are not affiliated with local council or government.
4. Check out your local Business Networking International Group
I recently went to one meeting and blogged about it in A Visit to Business Networking Group and quickly realised that this was not my target group of clients. However, they may be to you. There are frequent meetings occur all around the world and are a great opportunity to immediately get benefit from referral business. My key learning at this event was to have your elevator pitch down pat.
5. Just get out there and join a community group
The cynic in me may say, “learn how to play golf” and join a golf club to access local business owners and industry golfing events. (And no, it’s not the main reason I enjoy the game – I simply like driving around in the golf cart and having a hit with the girls). In all honesty, one of the better ways of networking is simply to be part of a sporting, community service or interest group that you enjoy so that you’re around like minded people who may have their own networks.
So ultimately, it’s been an interesting journey for me to build my personal learning network outside of that from my corporate contacts and my global contacts through Twitter and other social media tools – to networks that are more localised. In a way, I’ve had to revisit the traditional approaches to networking but this time use social media to research, focus and target the groups themselves.
What other ways have you used to broaden your networks into new target markets? I’d be interested to know and have some new ideas to explore.
Photo Credit: Portland Development Commission via Compfight cc