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Networking: A great tool in the bid for survival


SOSRoy Sheppard has some practical pointers for great business networking, which, he says is essential for survival in these recessionary times.

Mark is 22. He works for me as a freelancer. Recently he casually asked "So, what is a recession exactly?"

That's when it really hit me. A huge proportion of younger workers have no experience of what is going to happen in the next two years. Can we agree that this is no longer 'negative thinking'?

Believe me, I am not a negative person. A deep recession is definitely on the cards. I have been freelance through at least two recessions. I know what it's like. And I survived. You can too, if you plan now. If you are currently 'busy' and don't think it's a problem, ignoring the signs is a massive mistake. Doing nothing, and hoping for the best is not a plan.

Photo of ROY SHEPPARD"Don't spray your business cards around like a tomcat. When you meet someone interesting, collect their business card."

Self-employed freelancers already know how difficult it can be to maintain a steady flow of work; in a recession, freelance trainers in particular will get hit hard. This is when you learn that staff training and personal development (because 'our people are our biggest asset') only applies when employers have 'spare cash'. There will be far less 'spare cash' around.

And to make matters worse, more people will be made redundant. A significant proportion of them won't be able to find full-time work and will therefore be forced to 'go freelance'. Competition will therefore intensify. Desperate for work - any work – these inexperienced freelancers will be more likely to undercut you by accepting lower fees.

So, what can you do about it? More than you might think. First, take a long hard look at what you offer. How much of what you do is a 'must have' as opposed to a 'nice to have'? Develop more 'must have' courses and offerings. Second, get out more. Find time now to build and strengthen your existing contacts and relationships. Re-connect with past clients first and also develop a strategy to expand your network. Attend more networking meetings.

Here are some practical tips to get you started:

  • When you get there, decide that you are going to meet new people – not just spend time 'clumping' with people you already know

  • Ahead of time, scan the delegate list to identify people you would like to meet. Find them and introduce yourself. Or get someone you know to make the introductions for you

  • Make a point of volunteering to introduce people to help others. Make sure you get everyone's names right

  • Bite the bullet – go up to strangers (even though our mothers tell us not to) As author Susan Jeffers says 'Feel the fear and do it anyway'

  • Stay until you have met and connected with a pre-determined number of people. Start with just one or two – as your confidence (and success grows) build it up to five or six

  • Focus on finding ways to be of value to others – initially, forget what's in it for you. Do this by offering opportunities to others – information, referrals and recommendations with little or even no desire for 'a return favour'. Offers with strings attached are not offers

  • In order to help others, you need to know what they want. To find out, ask lots of non-threatening questions about them, share stuff about you too so its not seen an inquisition

  • Think more about what help you are looking for. So when you're asked – you know

  • Stand up. Sitting down at a networking event doesn’t work

  • Give your name first. It helps put people at ease. Then ask for their name

  • Listen more carefully to others' names. Repeat the name until it is lodged in your brain. If you didn't quite catch their name ask for it to be repeated, rather than 'letting it go'

  • Imagine a close friend will join you and stand there waiting to be introduced. This will force you to pay more attention

  • Starting a conversation can be daunting for some people. Talk about common interests – what they want from the meeting, how long they've worked for their company, what they like about their role, what else they would like to do, are there any speakers they are particularly keen to hear, what they think of anyone they've already heard?

  • Don't spray your business cards around like a tomcat. When you meet someone interesting, collect their business card

  • "Bite the bullet – go up to strangers (even though our mothers tell us not to) As author Susan Jeffers says 'Feel the fear and do it anyway'."

  • Don't dismiss support or junior staff such as secretaries, assistants, waiters and waitresses, security guards and those who deliver the internal mail because they can all be huge allies, or your biggest enemies. Spouses also have far more power and influence than some imagine. Nurture them. Get to know them as people. Look after their interests and they will recognise and reward you by providing access to their decision-making 'superiors'

  • When you meet new people, find out enough about them to have a valid reason to follow up with a call, SMS message, or email. Perhaps you can send them some appropriate information that you promised

  • Finally - enjoy yourself

The world may have 'broken' in the past year, but everything is a cycle. A downturn won't last for ever. Things will get better – eventually. Until that happens, develop your plan now.

Roy Sheppard is a freelance conference moderator and speaker on business relationship building. For more information go to He is also the founder of, a free membership website which teaches freelancers how to find more work


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