Networking Photo

There's no such thing as a 'One man band' in business

31st January 2017

When people discover that I’ve been a freelance PR consultant since 2007 they often comment, “That’s brave.”

Whenever I ask people why they think freelancing might be scary, they reply with the words “isolation,” “you need self-discipline,” “it’s all down to you”, “loneliness,” and “it’s risky”.

Yes there is a risk that work will dry up, but that is true of every business and, like any other business, it encourages me to keep listening to what clients need, refreshing my skills and focusing on new business development.

I started out as a teacher, so I’m used to having my performance measured. This encourages self-discipline. Being the only adult in the room with 35 teenagers can also be fairly isolating. So I was used to that aspect too.

Then one day I realised that I was struggling to come up with fresh ideas. Where I would have previously fired off half a dozen answers to the same questions, I found myself spending longer mulling things over and not being as satisfied with the results. 
I realised that as I’d got busier, I’d neglected networking. Working longer hours on my own was no longer the answer. I needed to get back to talking to real people and sharing ideas face to face, rather than frying my brain reading, researching and responding to social media posts.

A few days later I received an email out of the blue from Martin Fowler, regional chairman of Business over Breakfast, inviting me to attend a networking breakfast in Farnborough at 6.30am the following morning. I was about to delete it and shut down my laptop for the evening. Then I paused, and asked myself, “What else are you doing at 6.30am tomorrow morning?”

To stop myself from backing out, I emailed straight back to confirm that I’d be there, picked out some smart clothes and set my alarm for 5am. I was surprised to notice that I was a little nervous about walking into a room full of strangers. This strengthened my resolve because it confirmed that I’d left networking alone for too long.

Nine and half hours after receiving that email, I walked into the Holiday Inn, Farnborough and was met by the wonderful Gillian Clarke, founder of GDC Bookkeeping, who welcomed me so warmly I knew that this was the right group for me. Martin Fowler then introduced me to Jess Staniforth, founder of ATE Social Media, who immediately impressed me with her knowledge and experience. I subscribed to the Business over Breakfast group there and then.

My membership of this group has paid dividends over the past year. I gained an instant support network of skilled and trustworthy suppliers.

Over the past year I’ve picked up several interesting projects from other members of the group: recouping my joining fee several times over. However, it’s the power of the group that is of most value to my business.

After meeting with other business owners and listening to their stories, I come away inspired and reinvigorated and this energy flows into my client work. The breadth of skills and expertise possessed by other members makes me feel that I’m part of a much larger organisation. If I get stuck on a particular problem, I know that I have good people to call on. If my clients request a recommendation, I have great people that I can refer. That is extremely powerful.

Jim Whitehurst, CEO of open source leader, Red Hat, recently wrote a blog post on the power of collaboration within enterprises. In the post, Whitehurst writes,

many of the hurdles we face, from slowing productivity and stagnant economic growth to underfunded schools and climate change, are simply too big for any one person or individual organization to address alone. We must find new ways to work together. And to do that, we need to be willing to toss out our conventional thinking about how work gets done. We need to embrace the notion that participation is the new innovation.

When you can bring groups of people together from across multiple organizations and disciplines, and allow them the freedom to work together, your ability to innovate becomes far greater.”

I couldn’t agree more. While I may have been a freelance consultant for almost ten years, I’m certainly not working in isolation. My business depends on a whole network of specialists whose energy, experience and expertise strengthens the service that I’m able to offer. No one is an island.