For all my regular readers this is your advanced warning – This post is nothing to do with sewing, nothing to do with craft and there are no pics of coffee, fabric or my kitchen.  This post is about networking.  I hate to burst everyone’s bubble but the reason I get to sew most days, post pictures of my latest makes and cups of coffee in pretty cups is because I became self employed doing what I love and working from home.  Despite what a lot of people think, going by my social media posts, I probably spend 70% of my time doing anything but sewing/creating.  When you are “in business” you have to wear umpteen hats.  My main business is running workshops from my cottage and making personalised gifts but in order to that behind the scenes I have to do the marketing, sales, accounts, advertising, admin and all the rest.  On top of all that I have to network.

Everyone knows that networking is important when you are in business and the buzz words of the moment focus on “building your tribe”, surrounding yourself with people who bring you up and all the rest.   I  am very lucky to have my own little tribe but I know that to be successful in business you need to build that tribe up.

However, I know that in order to build my tribe that involves moving outside my comfort zone that is withing a 5 mile radius of my cottage!  So I’ve been trying (ok I’ve made a couple of half arsed attempts) to get myself out there and “network”. The mere typing of that word actually makes me squirm!  I have been to many events over the years since starting my business and I can tell you that they have all been equally uncomfortable and disappointing as the next.  I always leave them and drive home cursing myself for wasting another 3 or more hours of my life on something that drags me down as opposed to pulls me up!  My friends even roll their eyes at this stage if I mention I am going to one.
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I’ve really tried to address what it is I don’t like about networking and come to the conclusion that I am more of an introvert than extrovert.  I can imagine anyone who knows me reading this will probably have either sworn at the screen or laughed out loud at this stage!  I am though.  Maybe this has just happened or maybe I hid it well but take me away from my circle of friends and put me in a room with a group of complete strangers I crumble.  I really do.  I try so hard to smile and be “chatty” but in my head I’m playing repeat scenes of Baby in Dirty Dancing saying “I carried a water melon” when she meets Johnny for the first time.   I find it complete and utter torture.  I hate it and I know hate is a strong word but in this context it’s not strong enough.   However, like all good stories that start out with the violin feeling sorry for the writer moments, I can say that I think I might just have had a breakthrough and there could just be a happy ending.

Yesterday I attended the Women’s Inspire Network – From Kitchen Table to Building an Empire event at City North Hotel. organised by Samantha Kelly aka Tweeting Goddess

The day started like all other pre-network events.  At 6.00 am my alarm went off and I woke with that total dread after a restless night tossing and turning making up excuses in my head for why I shouldn’t go and how I was going to let Ruth down if I didn’t.  I blame it all on Ruth, only for her  (one of my tribe) I probably would have backed out.  So I jumped out of bed, put on my armor (I even dressed differently to how I would normally) put on my war make up (bloody hell I spent about 20 minutes looking for my make up as it’s been that long since I wore any) got in the car and off I drove up the motorway to Dublin.  I spent the entire time, in between listening to Amy Porterfiled podcasts (amazing by the way) rehearsing my elevator pitch out loud in the car in the pure panic that I was going to be called upon to introduce myself and my business.  Oh God why do I do these things was muttered more than once.

You’re probably wondering what made me go?  Well it was the title to start with “From kitchen table to building an empire”.  My business is run entirely from my kitchen table whether it’s making my personalised frames, running my workshops or helping small business owners with their IT/websites and social media.  It all happens at the kitchen table.  It’s where i’m most comfortable, most happy, most content and just happens to be where I earn my money.  The title just made this event sound less corporate to other events and I just instantly felt like this could be the one.  Then I read through the list of speakers, many of whom I recognised from different social media channels, some I didn’t know at all but I was impressed at the line up and thought ok, let’s do this.

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Fast forward to 8.40 am and I’m pulling up in the car park outside the hotel.  I’m bricking it to say the least.  What was I thinking going on my own!?  No backing out now and besides I was desperate for the loo!  What can I say, I am so glad I went, honestly, I’m not going to gush here, well maybe a bit, but I met some wonderful people yesterday. Yes I still felt uncomfortable, yes I had several “I carried a watermelon” moments but overall I really enjoyed the day.  I doubt I’ll ever win any “networking” awards but I’m getting there.

The day started off in such a lovely way. I walked in the door and Ruth was the first person I saw and greeted with a big hug.  Honestly – where would be without friends?  Ok gushing alert heard!!  After coffee and a chat she went off to do her thing and I decided to have a look at the stands.  One in particular caught my eye whilst chatting with Ruth and that was Kajsa’s stand.  I saw her beautiful stitched makes in the distance and loved the scandi-style and colours. Ironically when I popped over to admire and tell her how lovely her makes was she knew me, she recognised me from my Nationwide appearance all those many moons ago.  What a small world.  Then she tweeted this bless her .

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Thank you Kajsa it was so lovely meeting you x I hope you had a really successful day and hope to see you again soon.

Right I’m not going to bore you to death with every person I met and spoke to but I am going to say this is the first networking event I have ever been to that I actually enjoyed.  Don’t get me wrong I still felt awkward and uncomfortable but I think that’s going to take more than one event to solve.  Also, when you talk to other people most of them tell you they feel the same so it’s not just me.  Come on guys it’s not just me – is it??  Tell me your networking (horror) stories.

Before I finish I have to share a few snippets from the speakers on the day. All were just brilliant and all gave some great nuggets of info but here are a few that stood out for me.

Marija, founder of Parfumarija.  I just LOVED her story.  It reminded me a little of the movie Chocolat.  She was a nurse but had a dream to make perfume and now she is doing just that and has a shop in Dublin.  I’m not sure if it was her unassuming manner or her gorgeous accent but I had a total #girlcrush moment when she was speaking. I know I wasn’t alone – she had the whole room in awe.

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Then there was Tony’s presentation which was just brilliant.  So many great tips for running your business all under the title of “Act Like a 3 year old”.  My favorite being “I’m possible trumps impossible always”

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A great twist on one of my favorite quotes.  win2016

Oonagh from Meaghers Pharmacy was equally as beguiling as Marija.  She spoke about how in her 20’s whilst working in Meagher’s Pharmacy on Baggot Street that she decided she wanted to buy the business.  She then went on to tell us how she got the opportunity to do just that but had just two weeks to pull together 2 million pounds and she did!!   She talked about so many different aspects of the business, from spreadsheets to taking on ideas of millennials and how hiring people has changed for her.  Her standout phrase for me was when she referred to training staff

 “What happens if I train them and they leave? Oh but what happens if I don’t train them and they stay”.  

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I loved Michelle Jackson’s presentation about being an author and listening to her own personal story, how losing her cough gave her a voice.  Thank you Michelle for the lovely book too I’m looking forward to reading that soon and for the walk around the block, it was lovely meeting you.  I could have chatted all afternoon!  Must get onto my App designer ;o)

Barbara Scully entertained us all with her very witty presentation about blogging and tweeting.  She was so funny.  I wish she had more time as she was conscious of the event running over and had to rush but it was really funny nonetheless and so honest, I could have listened to her all day.

Miriam’s own story totally resonated with me.  Sewing at home and then creating a business, appearing on Nationwide and embracing social media.  All of the above I have done and just like Miriam says, I’m nobody special I just got off my bum and did it and you can too.  Miriam’s presentation was faultless and then she announces it’s her first time to ever get up and talk in front of a crowd.   Amazing!

It was lovely to meet Samantha too, organiser of the event.  You cannot be on Twitter and not know Samantha aka the Tweeting Goddess.    For someone organising such a mammoth event she was as calm as anything all day and chatted and smiled to everyone.   She deserved a very big glass of vino last night!

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I cannot finish without a mention for Ruth Scott – our MC for the day. She was just fantastic.  She was funny, honest and most of all entertaining.    When there were possible tumbleweed moments she stepped in like the Pro that she is, she referred to every speakers presentations after they spoke which I thought was lovely.  Some MC’s just push you on and off stage and don’t even listen to what you say.  Not Ruth.  If anyone is organising an event and looking for an MC you should give her a call, or tweet her!

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And so after a few “I carried a watermelon” moments I hit the motorway and headed home.

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I arrived home at the cottage and said my usual “thank you, thank you, thank you” as I opened the gate and walked inside.  I am blessed to be doing what I love in a place I love so much.
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This morning I am back here at my kitchen table building my empire.  I’m taking bookings for workshops, editing my website, answering emails and pondering on the future of Michellemadethis.  I have so many ideas for what I want to do and make and after yesterday I’m even more revved up to make them happen.

As for networking.  I’m still not a fan but I’m getting there.  I think one of the things that made yesterday easier, for me, was that it was all women.  I don’t mean to be sexist here but most of the other events I have attended have been male dominated and as soon as they hear the word sewing you can see them zone out.  Whereas yesterday when I mentioned sewing I got a total new “interested” reaction.

There were still a few who zoned out though which I find annoying to say the least.  Some people are a little too close minded when it comes to networking – yes my business is sewing but my background is in IT where I was a trainer in law firms.  I may hate networking but I have no problem standing up in front of a room of people and training.  I have been blogging for several years, long before it became trendy, I have a strong social media following and I know shit.  Que the Pretty Woman scene where she goes into the shop and gets turned away.  Don’t dismiss me because you think Sewing is “just a hobby”.  I have run my own business for several years now.  I set it up at the start of the recession and I am still here.  I’ve been on tv a number of times and been featured in several magazines and when you get to know me you will see that I am happy to share contacts, ideas, business tips and lots more but knock me before you know me and I close up like a shell.  My mum always taught me to be nice.  I don’t care if you are a cleaner, a lawyer, a waitress or a Queen, I treat everyone the same.  I think we should all think like that when networking.   Treat people the way you wish to be treated.  You never know when that contact is going to come in useful.

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I’d love to hear from other people about their networking experiences?  You can find me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.