In other parts of the world, networking meetings are a normal part of the business day. Travel to Dubai, Australia or Singapore, and you’ll find that networking is something that people discuss openly and enthusiastically. It’s clear that networking works. But, in the UK, there still seems to be some residual embarrassment about it. Why?
My first experience with UK networking was not a positive one!
I went along to a local networking meeting for the first time over 15 years ago. I had started my own business publishing local magazines in 2005, having moved to the area a couple of years earlier. I think I was hoping to meet other local business owners in the same boat and to meet some potential customers.
When I walked into the in-person meeting in the function room of a local pub, my heart sank. The meeting was stuffy, old-fashioned, and dominated by men in suits thrusting their business cards into my hand. Interactions were formal and it was clear that some people had already formed cliques. I don’t like public speaking at the best of times, and I felt like everyone was trying to sell to me.
I didn’t go back. Traditional UK networking felt pushy and inauthentic, so I understand why other people assume that networking isn’t for them! I think those traditional meetings have a lot to answer for!
A culture of not networking?
Since I founded ScreenPop, a UK networking business, with my twin sister, Katherine, in 2020, I’ve noticed that a lot of people are suspicious and almost disapproving of what we do. While networking is widely accepted elsewhere, it’s still not the norm for many small business owners.
I think that part of the problem lies in cultural difference. Us Brits are well-known for our characteristic reserve, and successful networking requires us to put ourselves out there. I often hear prospective customers say they want to try one of our meetings, but they’re too nervous. Without fail, they realise it’s not that bad once they’ve tried it. Our meetings are friendly and supportive and our members often become each other’s biggest cheerleaders!
We’re also uncomfortable talking about money, especially in public. We don’t like asking people to pay for our time or services. But here’s the cold hard truth: if you work for yourself, you’re going to have to go in search of customers, unless you have a ready-made network.
Ultimately, I think the major problem is that networking isn’t embedded in the UK’s business culture – yet.
Nepotism is still alive and kicking, and the age-old adage, ‘it’s all about who you know,’ still rings true. If you didn’t go to school or university with your dream contacts or clients, it’s hard to connect with other businesses. People are made to feel that it’s embarrassing to look for contacts outside of our social groups, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Networking is a way of democratising the market.
Networking is changing
The traditional networking experience that I hated all those years ago is no longer the norm. Although those formal meetings still exist, today, there are far more options to choose from.
Although the pandemic had many negative consequences, it made it possible to network with people around the country and beyond from the comfort of your own home. Online meetings often feel less intimidating, as well as offering some much-needed connection for those of us who work from home.
We also run in-person networking meetings in Hertfordshire and Nottinghamshire, with more on the way in the future. All of our UK networking meetings, online and off, are informal and welcoming, and it’s rare that you’ll see anyone in a suit handing out a stack of business cards.
As the UK moves further into the 21st century, I’m convinced that networking is the way forward for business.
To learn more about our networking groups, get in touch.