It was this shift in circumstances, and mindset, that allowed me to start my own business. This had always been my dream. My own boss.
I had finally decided on the name Word Gets Around. This is the debut album of my favourite band: Stereophonics. This was my debut too, into the business world, and it was a name that had scope to expand into a variety of areas: design, marketing, PR, networking (although I didn’t know that at the time). Marketing and advertising are about getting people talking and raising awareness of who you are, what you do, why and the benefits of choosing you.
I’d never heard of ‘networking’ back in 2010. Well I had, it made me think of a BT cabinet on the street and an engineer working on what appears to be the most complex set of wires to disable the world’s most confusing bomb.
‘Business networking’ was a new concept. I sent a tweet about starting out on my own and someone recommended networking. I got a call within the hour and I was attending the Friday of that week for a ‘business breakfast’.
I was excited, but also terrified. The fear of the unknown kicks in. What if no one likes me, or I look like an amateur (I was!). Also the public speaking made me very uncomfortable. A flashback to when I had a line about Cranberry Sauce in the Middle School in the Christmas play.
“Hello, I’m Paul and I’m a graphic designer. My business is called Word Gets Around and I don’t know what to say next”. They then laughed (in a supportive way) and I sat down and starting eating a runny egg from my plate and slurping my coffee.
It was brilliant. My heart was pounding but it was really good to be meeting new people. Pretty soon I’d not had so many fry ups in such a short space of time, since an eventful holiday in Corfu with 'the boys'.
Screw the gym membership, this was the best thing I'd committed myself to. Everyone was so friendly, inspiring and helpful. I got a real buzz from meeting new people and also building up a relationship with friendly faces.
I soon became the marketing member for the Taunton group, in charge of promoting the group and attracting new members.
I had a membership that lasted for 200 days before I had to renew. As the days quickly ticked away I began to feel that I was spending far too much of my time promoting their business and making them money, when I had just started out myself. Sure it helped me talk to more people but it didn’t seem to make much business sense, even for a rookie like me.
I didn’t like the mornings, I’m a night owl, always have been. I was also travelling to other groups in towns further away, arriving at ‘stupid o’clock’ to meet up with people I’d seen a few days previous, wanting to make the most of their membership. We ended up talking about TV or people seemed to pounce on the all new people trying out the group.
My membership was nearly up. I was skint, and couldn’t afford the renewal. I saw the benefits that networking brought, I got it from day one. Help people, ask questions and get to know them. It’s an investment in people, relationships grow and trust forms. People then will approach you with business if it feels right for them or their connections.
I left under a bit of a grey cloud, having tried to organise an epic night as my swan song that ticked every box as a marketing assistant, joining up the groups across the country.
It was a great experience and I met some lovely people. I wasn't ready to stop going. I missed it, and the people.
We realised that the morning is not always the best time to network. People are often busiest then, whether it be the school run, opening your shop/office, a full-time job, answering emails or travelling to see clients. It also left us knackered by 2pm.
We knew, because we both took on those challenges. By taking away early morning barriers we could find that extra few hours that we craved to successfully network.
We wanted to create a network group that is social but also gave you business advice, support, friendship and leads without the demands on your time.
A membership cost money, plus you had to pay for each meeting on top. A pay as you go option not only made it affordable for people, it also ensured that the group didn’t have all the same people each time you met, obliged to use their membership.
We met for our first meeting on Thursday October 27th 2011 at The Master Thatcher in Taunton. We stood there with a script in our hands shaking and looking a little vacant at times. It was great though, people loved the format and relaxed and informal vibe that remains to this day.
Starting our own group turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Up there with asking a beautiful woman if she’d like a drink (now my wife), and deciding to meet Rod, jane and Freddy (of Rainbow fame), where Jane sang to me.
It has been a platform to promote my design business, in an indirect way. It has helped to open many doors along the way. In fact at our 3rd birthday we had 38 guests. 24 of the guests were my clients The real value though is in the benefits that business networking brings. You can read more about this here.
How did you get into networking? What was it like?
I’d be keen to hear from you.
Networking is not a new concept, it's been around for years but has recently blossomed with the help of the internet. If you feel like I felt, see what networking can do for you and your business.
I go to other local networking groups, including breakfast ones. It depends on which one is right for you. I recommend you try them all to find the right one that works for you.
In October 2016 we celebrate 5 years. It would be great to see you at a meeting soon. Our latest events can be seen here: