15 Blogs on Networking

Here are some blog posts we’ve published on how to get the best out of the many networking opportunities available in the business world.

Attending a Network Meeting

Take the Work out of Networking

5 Ways Introverts Can Excel at Networking

How to Suck at Networking

Five Things Never to do at a Networking Meeting

Running Your Own Professional Network

How to Run a Successful Business Network

The Apathyville Horror

Networking Online

11 Ways to Lose Friends and Alienate People on Facebook

5 Ways to Set Out Your Manifesto on LinkedIn

Questions I Get Asked About Getting Business Through Twitter

How to Avoid a Dull Twitter Profile

Disruptive/Radical Networking

The Rise of the unConference

5 Reasons Why Networking at BizCamp Works

Women ‘s Business Networks in Northern Ireland

Other Networking Topics

You ‘ve Got Networking On The Brain!

Is Secrecy Best For Business?

We’d love to hear your best tips on how to make good use of your time during professional networking. Add a suggestion in a comment.

Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

Take the Work out of Networking

I ‘m due to attend yet another networking event tomorrow evening (hosted by Women on the Move).

Yes, it ‘s that time of year again, when fun barbecues (where it ‘s often easier to mix) turn to enclosed spaces in upmarket conference suites in hotels, where you are expected to speak to other entrepreneurs, sell your business or promote your idea.

It ‘s terrifying, I ‘ll admit, the first time round. But here are some surefire ways to get those butterflies flying in formation (lovely imagery, unashamedly stolen from a friend)! Continue reading “Take the Work out of Networking”

Five Things Never to do at a Networking Meeting

Who says tradition is out? OK, I have my digital camera. I love email. I’m an avid blog reader. I know what the credit crunch is. I’m even following the American election trail, via Twitter (only on alternate weeks though). But, some things just work. So, when it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. What am I whittering on about? Networking! Yes, you can network via Facebook or you can tweet your way through the day on Twitter (and these are fantastic business tools), but traditional networking, i.e. talking face-to-face, cannot be replaced.

Following the set-up of our business we were encouraged to join business networks and gave up after a very short period of time when the only type of people we met were like us, all new and shiny but impoverished. Certainly not the type to be needing our services. Then, attracted by the 10 Tips for Sales Success free seminars, we felt we might be judging too harshly and attended a few more. Things were different. We’d simply had a couple of bad experiences. The time was well-spent. We received canny business advice from those who’d been doing it long enough to know how to succeed but not long enough to look jaded. We met our logo designer. We realised the NI business world is a very small one.

It takes practice and initially it can feel incredibly daunting, if now downright terrifying. These people know what you’re trying to do, they see you coming with your proudly flourished business card and flyer. Continue reading “Five Things Never to do at a Networking Meeting”

Why Belfast Hour Works

Update 21/10/14: #belfasthour Meetup and Official Launch is on 27/10/14

I’m in love. (No, not Allen. Well, OK.) With #belfasthour. What is #belfasthour?

Belfast Hour is a Twitter Chat

It’s a chat on Twitter. Fooled you there, didn’t I? You though it was going to be something complicated and “tecchie”. It was conceived by Edwards and Company, solicitors. It has its own Twitter account, though I tend to follow the #belfasthour hashtag instead.

How Does Belfast Hour Work?

Hashtags are labels that Twitter users add to tweets. Used consistently, it helps raise awareness of something. The conversation begins (usually at a set time in the week or month) when someone else uses the same hashtag when they reply to the organisers.

To keep up to date with the hashtag, click it anywhere you see it (or search for it using the search bar at the top of the screen), which aggregates every tweet that contains the hashtag. And, basically, it mushrooms from there.

People jump into conversations. And, out again. They tweet random observations, news about what they’re doing, ask and answer questions and generally act friendly and helpful. Connections are made, introductions happen and somewhere along the line everyone learns something new and makes new business friends. What’s not to like?

What Outcomes Can I Expect?

For me, last night’s chat resulted in new Twitter followers, a few interesting conversations, chats with people I’d not talked to for a while, and free coffee for Allen. (I’m an Earl Grey devotee.) My first experience of the chat resulted in three (unexpected) leads for Technical Writing work from a French man with a very cool name living in Dublin!

If you don’t get it, that’s fine. Lurk. Or, find something else to do. It’s not for everyone.

It Works Because It’s Hyperlocal

Belfast Hour works because it’s hyperlocal. SEO people preach about how, for certain types of businesses, it helps to add your location to your online efforts. People love to know what’s happening in their area. They love to source Northern Ireland solicitors, coffee makers and cake. They love to find others who’re running a business just like they are.

And because there’s stuff happening in Belfast outside of the Thursday night chat, people (including me) use the hashtag throughout the week, to help announce other stuff or ask questions.

It Works Because It’s Friendly

From the get-go (as the Immuricans say), Edwards and Co displayed an attractive willingness to celebrate all that is good about Belfast and its micro-entrepreneurs.

Last night’s chat had an added flavour since they cleverly encouraged chattees(?) to use the hashtag #purplepower to help promote the Northern Ireland Hospice. (There was even a draw for afternoon tea at The Merchant.)

It’s positive, charitable and forward-looking. I’m up for that.

It Works Because It’s Transparent

While starting any type of venture will naturally draw people’s attention, and that can only be a good thing for any business owner interested in sales, it feels like helping connect SMEs is the simple goal of #belfasthour. People love to meet, and with a straightforward message, those who’re interested will be drawn in, and attract others organically.

There are other chats around just now. Look up #irishbizparty, #corkhour and #galwayhour, #newtownabbeyhour and #donegalhour. If there are others, or if you’d like to tell us what you thought of #belfasthour, or interesting things that arose from your participation, add them in a comment. Or, if you’d like us to join your chat and blog about it, let us know.

Image credit: EoinGardiner

Why the Smart Vultures are Picking Off Your Clients

The smart vultures are circling your network and you don’t even know it. These pretty ugly, maligned creatures have their focus on your clients and the end will be so swift, you won’t see it coming. What can vultures teach us about clients? Do read on…

Vultures Have Amazing Senses

Are you waddling around like the dodo (stubby-beaked, grounded and docile), putting your single egg in a nest on the ground, hoping the predators won’t spot it? Are you deliberately not seeing opportunities in front of your eyes?

A new SME we spoke to recently was deflated as she contemplated an opportunity for her business that was financially out of reach. But, tenacious as we know she is, her mind soared above the seemingly-impossible. She researched, she read, she looked at pictures and websites, she scratched around for ideas and inspiration. And, finally, she sniffed the whiff of an opportunity to conduct some impactful market research (and marketing at the same time) without spending a fortune, and came up with a clever solution.

Another (experienced) SME we spoke to dismissed an opportunity we presented out of hand. Short-sighted, quite literally not seeing beyond her home town, despite (futilely) talking of expansion.

The smart vultures are circling your prospects, sensing a deal, a break, a new product line or direction, and going in for the kill.

Vultures are Scavengers

Vultures are scavengers. With the capacity to spot an opportunity lying just waiting on them, from four miles away, they simply zoom in on it with powerful vision.

Are you searching out every opportunity? Are you able to detect what will make you money and what won’t? Let’s not be coy. This is really the only consideration for an entrepreneur. If something proves not to be worth the distance, drop it mid journey. Entrepreneurs aren’t in it for the journey; they’re in it for the nourishment at the end. In this hunt, winning is more important that the taking part; don’t be hoodwinked by the equal opportunities doves.

This Summer, we’ve encountered business owners who offered the following reasons for not zooming in on crucially important opportunities we suggested (to reinforce offline the online marketing we provide):

  • “it’s too far away” (an eye-wateringly common response on this tiny island);
  • “no-one I’d want to see to would be at that seminar” (what, incase they provided you with a lead, or incase you’d be obliged to send out a quote?);
  • “I couldn’t get a babysitter in time” (for an event in six weeks’ time, when it’s obvious the partner is glued to the TV every night and could at least pretend to babysit his own children);
  • “but, my customers will all see my on Facebook, sure” (this from someone whose customers are likely to be mostly offline and not computer literate at all)
  • “no, I don’t have customers outside the town” (aghast at the very idea, the reason why this will never be more than a hobby for you, luv!)

The smart vultures are picking up the opportunities you’re too short-sighted to (even want to) see.

Vultures are Everywhere

Except for the Antarctic and Australia and areas that surround it, vultures are to be found right across the inhabited world, much like some seasoned networking friends we have. And, yet they (the friends, not the vultures) are derided and made fun of, compared to slebs who turn up to garish launches of small boutiques in medium-sized towns across GB.

But, in terms of raising awareness of your name, business, brand, service or product, networking is key. The vultures, networking friends, and yes, the slebs, have it spot on. (Targeted) visibility is a crucial part of driving interest, visitors, bookings, sales, and revenue. If you’re present and active, people will remember you, refer business your way, make connections and introductions, put opportunities your way, or simply become curious and look you up. If you’re silently sitting in your office waiting for that phone to ring, I suggest you cancel the trendy office. 😉

The smart vultures are getting to know your clients at Open Coffee Ballyclare, BizCamp and Business Networking East Antrim for example.

Get out there, scour the landscape and hone those business senses!

How to Run a Successful Business Network

So, you want to start a business network? Or, you’re on the management team for one that’s already up and running?

My forthright thoughts on my experiences of establishing a local business network, Open Coffee Ballyclare are spewed out in The Apathyville Horror. It cuts through the rose-tinted spectacles. The post below will help you avoid the pitfalls and make the right decisions.

Do I need help?

Yes, you do. But, avoid an official committee at all costs. Pick your partners or helpers well. Choose (and be) someone who is enthusiastic, active, entrepreneurial, engaged and already busy. You will need people to:

  • Send email updates and reminders
  • Post updates to websites or online profiles
  • Promote offline
  • Chair/lead a meeting if you suddenly can’t attend, need a break, or are feeling under the weather

For Open Coffee Ballyclare, see Help Wanted if you’d like to get involved.

Where should we meet?

Town folk may want to walk. Is it central? Country folk may have to get into a car. Is it easy to find? Is there adequate parking locally?

  • Choose somewhere that is easily recognisable, at least for your first few meetings. People are easily put off even by a few miles, especially those based in the town centre, and those who expect it to be convenient for them alone. Country folk are usually more willing to drive further. (Well, we have to for everything else, so it’s no bother.)
  • After that, my advice is to choose random and unusual locations if your geographical remit allows it. It has the crucial advantage of expanding everyone’s horizons and facilitates the shift from work mode to creative mode.
    • The more informal meet-ups often involve meeting at someone’s workshop or office.
    • I’ve found cafes and B&Bs work very well for an informal vibe.
    • The place we’ve met most often for Open Coffee Ballyclare is a (converted) barn – Breckenhill!

How do I promote it?

There is little I can add here, since I’ve already mentioned a huge list in The Apathyville Horror. But, be prepared. It’s an intensely realistic post!

Do not underestimate how much time this will take.

How do I measure success?

  • A regular, dependable group (size is up to you), with a few new faces on a regular basis
  • Recognition of the network name and activities in the local area
  • Business gained from access to attendees’ personal networks
  • Activity among attendees, between meetings
  • Establishment of new connections and friendships across industries and trades
  • People attending based on the word on the street
  • People ditching other networks to join yours *cough, cough*

I’d love to hear your thoughts, either of running or attending a well run network, and what you think contributes to its success.

UPDATE 15/09/13: Open Coffee Ballyclare

The Apathyville Horror

What you are about to read actually happened.

Trying to get bodies to attend a local networking event, Open Coffee Ballyclare, has been my evil plan since May 2011. I ‘m also keen on piling up the bodies at other networking events too.

Since the spring of 2011, it has been an experiment of mine to discover signs of life within the business community of Ballyclare. To aid me in my quest, I have designed a piece of apparatus called Open Coffee Ballyclare, a wondrous device by which living entrepreneurs may communicate with each other about a range of issues to mutual betterment.

The tale of my experiment, and the horrific results that followed, is not for the faint in heart. It involved the following experiments:

Emailing local business people I know to let them know about the event

This is not an email newsletter, but a personalised email, with a friendly enquiry about how things are going, or a comment on their activity online or events.

  • 40% don ‘t reply

Phoning/Emailing local business people I don ‘t know to let them know about the event

I get their contact details from specific local business directories, posters, flyers, or their websites.

  • 80% of phone numbers are invalid (out of business?)
  • 30% of email addresses are invalid
  • 10% of people respond

Emailing “local business support” organisations to ask them to place the event as a listing on their website or newsletter, or announce it at their events

  • 15% have been supportive
  • the remainder have ignored my email, or told me outright they could not promote something that was not their event (the conclusion, they ‘re willing to support business activities they ‘re initiating, or involved in, but not others) – why so threatened by a tiny, local business network?

Establishing and maintaining a Facebook page

  1. This has worked well to date – no horror here as far as the main page is concerned (aside from the odd dipstick who never attends events, or has any contact with the page, posting random promotions). Block!
  2. However, sending private messages via Facebook to new Likers often results in only 20% responding. Laziness? Fear? Disinterest? I ‘m just saying hi. (Incidentally, this doesn ‘t happen with our main page, for Sensei. Most people respond.)

Contacting other business networks to ask for help in promotion. Independents run by local entrepreneurs do; organisations don’t (that’s my experience).

  1. 90% are threatened by our existence (no response, or a flat no).
  2. ONE network (run by an independent) announces our meetings at their meetings.
  3. Yet, we are independent, not supported by the government, have no staff, and are self-organising. I have volunteer promoters, speakers, facilitators and helpers. And, it’s pretty ad-hoc from that point of view. We have no time for a nationwide campaign.
  4. The one local “business support” organisation that signed up unsubscribed from our email newsletter (maybe it ‘s boring, but surely it was a painless way to maintain a little bit of market research, keep up to date with local business activities and people, and reinforced their blatant intention of refusing to help us). Yes, I KNOW I can’t demand people’s support. But, I’m not asking a vet, or a mechanic. I’m asking a local, business support organisation.

Publishing press releases in the superbly supportive local newspaper (which unfortunately doesn ‘t replicate all articles online).

  • This has resulted in only five new faces at meetings.

Announcing other events to the group, via the newsletter and at meetups has been a good tactic.

  1. People love to hear about other events, but when I mentioned BizCamp Newry, someone told me Newry was too far to travel from Ballyclare, for undoubtedly one of the best networking formats around. Someone else once said Newry would take too long to travel to, from Ballyclare Someone one said, Newry?! Don ‘t these people ever travel outside the county for meetings? Mini-breaks? Parties? Shopping? So, it’s OK for leisure, but not for making your living?
  2. Establishing a permission-based email newsletter has been the best way to ensure registered attendees for monthly events.
  3. Stats are endlessly fascinating for anyone in love with spreadsheets. I can tell who’s consistently opening our email newsletters multiple times, despite never attending a meeting.

Setting up a RebelMouse profile, that will automatically post image content from the Facebook page.

  • This was interesting, though ultimately a waste of time, as only one person I know uses it. It may be discontinued at some point,unless it proves wildly popular.

Contacting local business people with premises (including cafes) to see if they can host meetings

  • The point of this is to help all of us gain an awareness of what products and services are available in Ballyclare, get our head out the door now and then to connect with others running a business, and on the way, bring some new customers into your premises.
  • Business owners are not interested, despite the fact it would get a group of 25 local people in the door. I have had only one response (a positive one).
  • The Open Coffee format, internationally, is best suited to a cafe, IMHO. Cafe owners (I have asked over 30 in the broader Ballyclare area) are, in general, not interested, as it would “take space up that our customers need” (clearer, we’re not viewed as customers). I’m not interested in taking up your lunchtime spot, but I fail to see how you couldn’t open half an hour early, to accommodate a breakfast meeting, or stay an extra hour, once a YEAR, to fit us in. (We had to abandon asking some, due to hygiene issues.)

At time of publication, only 25 entrepreneurial bodies have been uncovered.

You may guess, dear reader, the shattered state of my nerves and hopes at the failure of my experiment to yield more positive results. It only leaves me to warn you of the direst consequences should you chose to follow in my foolhardy footsteps.

The horror, the horror.

Image credit: galfred.

[Editor’s note: Dawn is not always this sarcastic. Should you have an entrepreneurial bone in your body, you’re welcome to attend Open Coffee Ballyclare, or contact Dawn to see how you may help to sustain the life of the network.]

Open Coffee Ballyclare

Open Coffee Ballyclare is a informal business network that has operated locally for two years. It is funded and organised entirely by Sensei.

Following a recent survey, where Sensei polled the opinion of the network ‘s newsletter subscribers on a variety of issues, the following trends emerged:

Survey Results

A bizarre percentage of people skipped almost every question on the survey, and so I can rely only on 25 people ‘s responses. Out of that quantity:

  • 78.8% were willing to pay for a networking service (some suggested it be set at £50)
  • 42.9% were most keen to meet at 10am
  • 92.9% were prepared to travel a outside the usual areas we have held meetings (with one person suggesting a 25 mile radius of Belfast)
  • 89.3% favoured Templepatrick (a front runner all the way through survey responses) and Newtownabbey among the list of suggested nearby towns
  • 32.1% said they would attend 6 out of 9 potential meetings in a year
  • 92% preferred meeting for tea/coffee only (as opposed to breakfast or lunch)
  • 10.7% curiously would not add their name to a new network ‘s proposed business directory

While a majority of those who responded to the survey are happy to pay for the service, an insufficient number of people responded to the survey, resulting in an unfeasible result overall.

Having already detected a lack of interest in networking, and watching BNI and 4N folding, I am unsurprised.


As a result, we will run no further Open Coffee Ballyclare events. The email newsletter will stop, and Facebook and Twitter accounts will also close. If you would like to collect contacts and business names from these locations, please do so by the end of the month. If you have any queries about business activities, programmes, events, tenders and opportunites locally, I suggest you address these to Newtownabbey Council or the Chamber of Commerce.

Keep in Touch

If you would like to keep up to date with Sensei ‘s other activities, sign up to the newsletter, or follow Sensei on Facebook or LinkedIn. Thank-you to all who have supported the attempt to establish a business community locally. Best wishes.

Dawn Baird

Partner, Sensei

5 Ways to Set Out Your Manifesto on LinkedIn

Gordon Brown has this week pledged to spread excellence. And, many Northern Ireland politicians are spreading promises of excellence via Twitter. We shall see. But just think, are you spreading your excellence across the web too? Here are five ways you can use LinkedIn to Set Out Your Manifesto, just like the big boys and girls. Except, they’re not using LinkedIn. Continue reading “5 Ways to Set Out Your Manifesto on LinkedIn”

Questions I Get Asked About Getting Business Through Twitter

People are asking me the following questions – an awful lot – so I thought I’d write a blog post to redirect everyone to, when these issues come up again. This blog post is directed at new Twitter users who are tweeting about their occupation or business.

How do I get more followers on Twitter?

  1. You must tweet. If you don’t tweet, people won’t know you exist nor what you do. Don’t expect people to approach you in Twitter. It won’t happen. And, when you click to follow people, some people will be put off if there are months between tweets.
  2. You must interact with others, as described below, under What should I tweet about? Continue reading “Questions I Get Asked About Getting Business Through Twitter”