Happy Jobmas!

This time last year I indulged in the memories of public sector Christmas past- the celebratory meal at the local Italian that did a lunchtime special for less than a fiver; the Michelin star quality of the canteen Christmas dinner (‘she wants vegetarian gravy!’) and the jolly office Christmas card.

Another jolly public sector party

I was also panicking about my future post 31st March and not sure what I’d be doing with the twenty three hours a day that Homes under the Hammer wasn’t on telly. Post redundancy like the infinity of space was hard to imagine without collapsing another synapse.

It’s not, however, been as doom-laded as I imagined. Since April I’ve set up a business with a colleague and recruited lots of schools. Phrases like ‘tax deductible,’ ‘e marketing’ and ‘business networking’ are part of my working vocabulary and I’ve retired public sector favourites like ‘stakeholder engagement,’ ‘best practice’ and ‘benchmarking.’

I’ve had some work as an independent trainer, have worked for a consultancy and have written for a well-known supermarket chain. I’ve continued my blog and been interviewed for a Guardian article without having to be anonymous.  I’ve also networkedlike a fiend and met some amazing business people.

Worth being made redundant for.

I had been told by a lot of people that being self-employed is a lonely option but I’ve not been lonely at all. I’ve met up with colleagues for coffee on a regular basis and in setting up our business my business partner and I have had to meet a lot, our favourite office being a branch of a well-known coffee chain. We make phone calls, send emails, sign cheques, check out eBay, plan training and design learning resources in our ‘office.’ NB: one of those items is not strictly work related.

It was after one of our meetings that I checked my phone for email and found and interesting message from a local head teacher. It said something along the lines of (and I may be paraphrasing here):

You know how you said you’d rather chew your own leg off rather than go back into school? You’d better sharpen your teeth and break out the salt and pepper because I’d like to offer you a job.

She went on to offer me the acting deputy headship at her school while her deputy is on maternity leave. Perhaps I’d like to meet her for a coffee in the ‘office’ and talk about it.

I discussed the proposition with Mr R who was very supportive. I then phoned my mother who said, ‘excuse while I faint,’ and then fell about laughing. Thanks mum.

I met with the head teacher and we worked out a deal: I’d take the job for three days a week so I can continue with my other projects and will remain self-employed to make the tax/national insurance/pensions thing my responsibility and so as not to confused HMRC. A few days after I accepted the post, the head teacher found someone to fill the post the remaining two days.  I’ll be very busy but it’s not class based and I’m very much looking forward to it. I like to think that maybe the universe has come good after a crappy start to 2011.

So my 2012 is set to be busy, challenging and exciting. Just don’t ask me what I do for a living if I bump into you at a party.

Happy festive season and a happy new year to my readers. Thank you for your support over the last fifteen months and I’ll see you next year.

How to network like an old pro

We don’t network much in the public sector. Our clients come to us. But now I’m I private business, I’m learning the art of the network and it’s really quite fun.

I discovered the Ladies Who Latte networks via the Internet. Local groups of fabulous business women meet monthly over coffee (did you guess?) and have a natter. There is then an opportunity to tell the whole group what you’re up to and swap business cards. Sometimes there are speakers: This month’s Tooting Ladies Who Latte chapter (the similarity to the Hell’s Angels ends there. Honest) had a speaker from City Business Library based in the Guildhall complex. If you’re London based or just visiting, do go and visit, it’s an amazing place. There are daily seminars on all aspects of business and, unbelievably in these austere times, are free. I’ve already been to my first and plan on making them a regular feature of my life.

At Streatham Ladies Who Latte I bumped in local businesswoman Edna Agbarha from this season’s The Apprentice and was invited to another networking event, the launch of Well-Connect in a cocktail bar in Soho with yet more fabulous and energetic business people there.  From there I was invited to the Holborn chapter of the BNI network, a more formal networking event over breakfast. The BNI model is an international one and works incredibly well: members make referrals and the business done between members is followed up and measured in financial terms.

All have been very different events but what have I learned about networking?

1)      Take a lot of business cards. I failed at the first hurdle at Tooting Ladies Who Latte thinking no one would be interested. By the time it came to the next event I was laden with business cards and handing them out with gay abandon. I bought my cards from Moo. They do amazing cards, mini cards and postcards. I chose inspirational quotations for the back of my cards to give people something to remember.

2)      People are generally incredibly friendly and helpful. So many people I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks have had ideas, suggestions and helpful words for me. Once I get on my feet I hope I’ll be as generous.

3)      People don’t mind if you cut to the chase. Wouldn’t all relationships be better for a bit of this? It’s ok at networking events to ask someone what they do and what they hope to get out of the event. This can seem rather direct but I like it. No messing about talking about the weather. As I’m married into a family of plain-speaking Yorkshire folk I’m fairly used to being spoken to in a forthright manner. It can be terrifying but least you know where you stand.

4)      I’m pretty shy but as Morrissey once warbled to some gladioli,

‘Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to.’

My default position on finding a room full of strangers is to press myself tightly against the wall in the hope that no one will notice me. It often works.  At a networking event it’s important to enter the room with a smile and an approachable manner. Take a deep breath, stick your hand out and say ‘Hi, I’m Citizen R and I’m an education consultant. What’s your line of business?’ Still scary but getting easier.

5)      Be polite. Luckily for me my mother drilled me in the sort of British manners that have me apologising profusely to inanimate objects and insects. People like manners. It’s that simple.

6)      Follow up. It’s great meeting people and chatting to them but you need to follow up any good contacts. That inner voice says to me, ‘they’ve forgotten you already and they’re not interested,’ but when I’ve dropped people an email, again they’re been happy to mail back.

7)      Brush on your social media. It’s easy to dismiss Linked-in and Twitter as a bit of fun but I’ve now got Twitter friends and Linked-in connections with people I’ve met.  Perhaps they won’t come to anything but who knows? If nothing else, it doesn’t hurt to have people to chat with.  NB Don’t get obsessive over it though. Read this article by Filip Matous from Enviable Workplace and weigh up the pros and cons.

So those are my thoughts as a complete novice. What are your top tips for networking?

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