I used to be really negative about networking do’s – I could never see the point of going and used to feel it was a necessary, if unpleasant part of the job in my former employed life. But over time I began to see benefits from networking, it really helped to build contacts, get people talking and explore ways of working together to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
So when I started Bits and Bobs I knew I needed to find a way to network with other crafters and find out more about the world I was entering. I started off online over at Folksy, by joining in with the forums. I learned that to make sales online I had to learn to promote online and so a facebook page became needed, swiftly followed by accounts with twitter, craftjuice and creative connections. I found the networks were useful for learning about how people work, but sometimes felt they were quite competitive and found it hard that despite all the work I felt I was putting in, I didn’t seem to be getting much of a return on my investment.
I started talking to people about what I was doing in a small way offline and that started to bring in the odd sale here and there but it was still pretty sporadic. The Taste of Enterprise course offered a ready made network as part of the progression and whilst this was interesting and I learned alot from people about the practicalities of business, I wasn’t really getting the leads and contacts I needed.
So I dipped my toe into the world of Craft fairs and that was great, I found lots of encouragement and positive feedback about what I did and got to meet lots of lovely people. But again it didn’t really lead to where I’d hoped – which was finding opportunities to work with people collaboratively. Or so it seemed at the time. But now the work with Taste of Enterprise and Craft Fairs is really taking off and is promising to lead onto some really positive opportunities around running craft fairs and specialist wedding “learn to make” events.
I then found out about the CHAOS network, a local organisation that brings artists, crafters and people from the worlds of music, film and theatre together and that did start to open a few doors. Around the same time I met up with Steve and Ross from Third Age Centre and the local Age Concern group. This lead onto joining SIGN, which is a local network of people and agencies who work across the generations. I made some great contacts there which has lead on to my developing courses and is now leading to work and commissions. I also made some connections with Networking Mummies and Mums and Business and this is now starting to lead to collaboratives and work.
I have to admit though that I’ve been feeling that my information is dropping into a black hole sometimes and that I’ve had strong misgivings at times about whether I’m doing the right thing with marketing and letting people know about who I am and what I want to do.And that’s another positive about networking – people come and approach you and want to meet you, based on the information you’ve sent out to them at some point. That’s happened today and I attended a really positive networking lunch at Third Age Centre and have got 2 leads and a commission. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk to some Mum’s at Sure Start who are getting to the point of needing to return to work and share a bit about me and my journey and also hear about other women who’ve faced and overcome multiple barriers to working.
I’ve drawn up a series of little post-it type notes that you are welcome to download as a result of my reflections on networking which you are more than welcome to download and print off if you find them useful: