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Networking; it’s more than just Sales!

When I was first thinking about starting my business, my good friend Hannah insisted I join a women’s business network. Initially I was nervous ~ there are huge amounts of imposter syndrome joining a group of entrepreneurs before you’ve even started your own business ~ but I quickly found that it was the best thing I could have done early in my business as they were able to give me support, answer my questions, boost my confidence and actually make me realise how much valuable knowledge I could share with them too!

About 2 months ago, having realised the power of these communities I also joined the MILSPO Business network; a network set up specifically for the partners of people in Military, with all the unique challenges that come with the military lifestyle… moving all the time, often remote postings, postings abroad, married quarters and your partner leaving you for 6 months to go on tour to name a few!

What I have discovered from being in these networks is that the people that show up and scream “hire me hire me” (figuratively of course) gain the least engagement and those that ask questions, offer advice, support other businesses and refer people they know when they see opportunities are the people who do the best.

Since joining both I have gained clients but not through consistent advertising but through answering questions, sharing my knowledge and engaging with others within the group. More importantly I have met people from around the world who have been incredibly helpful, have taught me things about areas of business I had no experience in and who, once they got to know me, became what Hannah calls her “silent sales team” – people who will tag you in posts you haven’t seen and recommend you to people you don’t know!

I’ve also found a benefit I hadn’t considered when I first started ARC; my clients often need quick solutions but finding the right person to suggest can take time. Since being in these networks, I have been able to pass work out to people I have met because they are already trusted by me as I have spoken to them, seen their work, heard from others who have worked with them.

I’ve spoken with others about networking and been shocked that they are resistant to joining; scared of doing an elevator pitch or feeling stupid amongst peers – imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head again! I spoke with Jess Sands who created the MILSPO network to see what she thought…

You set up the MILSPO Business Network – what was the reasoning behind that?

The network first started back in 2018 and inclusivity is at the heart of it all. Milspo stands for Military Spouse, Partner and Other-halves, and exists to support all partners within the currently serving military community and is an active and engaged mutual support organisation for small business owners.

It started during a very lonely posting where my husband was constantly abroad as a way for me to meet some new people. I realised very early on that moving so often meant that my ‘real-life’ network sort of forgot me every time I moved, which was so upsetting. Both myself, and my businesses needed a network, as transient as my life that I could take anywhere.

The Milspo Network now acts as a community and network that can travel anywhere that service life takes us. It’s a community of like-minded business owners, who have become a stable source of support during these challenging times.

It exists to give access and a voice to the inspirational men and women who experience military life from the home front, as a way to engage and inspire any member of our community who dreams of doing the same but cannot find the way.

What was your experience of networking prior to MILSPO?

I have done a lot of networking in the past – good, bad and ugly! But, until we started doing Virtual Networking in May 2019 it had all been offline and in ‘real-life’, usually in a stuffy hotel room with a lot of financial advisors in suits!

I wasn’t entirely sure if it would be possible to do online networking and so one night me, my husband and every gadget we owned dialled in to a test networking session – it worked! And Milspo Virtual Networking was born.

I am so glad to see that (due to the pandemic) the rest of the world has realised just how fab online networking can be and it’s opened up so many avenues to ‘meet’ new people that wasn’t possible before we all moved to online.

A lot of people are worried about networking – what are your top tips for anyone starting out?

In every military posting location I have attended networking events and I often get so much out of it. The secret to successful networking is commitment. No matter the cost of the event, if you can turn up to every event and meet the same people each time you can start to build a real relationship with people who will in the end come to you for business. People like to work with people that they respect and want to spend time with, so start building those connections. It doesn’t matter if they are online, or offline, just build that network. We have seen a lot of work pass around the network during lockdown and at the Milspo Meet-Ups which have been completely online and it just proves that you can build a successful business network from anywhere in the world!

What would be your number one reason to encourage someone to join a network?

The number one reason that I love to join a network, both in the military community, and outside of it, is because it works well for both me and my network. In the same way that people can come to my business for design work, I can go to them for all of my needs in business. I know that they are genuine, and good at what they do because I have known them and connected with them properly. What’s more, if there’s something I need and no one does that in my own network, I can tap into their greater network and find a supplier, and visa versa.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Sometimes the thought of networking can be frightening, but like in all things in business sometimes you just need to take that jump and give it a go. I promise it gets easier the more you do it, and it can completely transform your business so it’s well worth a go!

Jess raises some really good points here; I consider myself lucky to have started ARC during lockdown where in-person meetings were not the norm for a couple of reasons, not least of all committing to 1 hour online in my own home and with the ability to turn my camera off if it gets too much is far less scary than heading off in to a town or city to be with people and have the ‘when can I leave’ conundrum! Now when in person meet ups start again I will be less worried because I have already made friends within these groups!

I completely agree with Jess; sometimes you just have to take that leap and know that it is never as scary as you imagine!

If you are a military partner, you can join MILSPO Business Network here

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