Question: I run my own business and part of growing my business is networking, but I am so bad at it. How can I be better?

Networking has a bad reputation – many of us fear it like the plague; the thing is, if we don’t keep meeting and building relationships with new people (that’s the crux of networking) we end up working in isolation. And when you’re an island, success is much trickier to achieve. We think this is doubly true if you’re running your own small business – presumably there’s no big team at the HQ.

The way we explain the uniquely female fear of networking is by using bees and spiders as useful analogies. As women, we feel most comfortable networking with likeminded other women – we are bees in a hive who don’t enjoy venturing into the wider garden. Men on the other hand, are spiders who tend to weave their webs far and wide. Their webs are weaker and more spindly than ours, but they include many more contacts.

The good news is that neither is the right way, rather we suggest a blended bee/spider version to build the ultimate set of work contacts. Here are our top tips to making the whole thing feel less daunting:

Tips on networking

1. Have a coherent story to tell about yourself and your brand – find comfort in your own, well-put together narrative.

2. Learn to ask questions – people love to talk about themselves, this is a sure-fire way to avoid awkward silences.

3. Practice!

4. Start small – reach out to one person you haven’t seen in a while (and who might be useful to the business) and catch up for a coffee.

5. Tap the friends-of-friends route – that way you already have a common interest.

6. Once you’re feeling more chilled about the networking situation, try a single cold approach. Email someone you admire, tell them your story, ask for 10 minutes of their time – scary, yes, but we love some flattery; you’ll be surprised by how often this results in a networking slam dunk.

7. Final step: attend an industry event on your own, approach and chat to three completely new people. Take it slow, and you’ll learn that networking is really just talking with a purpose.

Networking postscript: It’s important, once you’ve met, not to let the connection go to waste so make sure you take their details and follow up afterwards whether it’s for a longer coffee, introduction they said they would make or just to say hello. Having cemented the relationship, it will be that much easier to get back in touch next time you actually want to speak.

Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins (Vermilion, £12.99)

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