I moved to Bristol nearly 7 years ago now, a fairly common example of a Londoner that had no real love for hectic London life. I wasn’t long out of university but quickly found myself involved in the Bristol and Bath tech ecosystem and soon discovered my passion for early-stage businesses. In one form or another, that is where I’ve spent my career so far, either supporting or being directly involved in a range of startups and scaleups.
Unsurprisingly, my involvement with many local tech networks, such as TechSPARK, meant that I spent many workdays and evenings at events. I’ve always been sociable and have never struggled meeting and talking with strangers, and so through a combination of ego and youthful naivety I believed that meant I was an excellent networker. In fact, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years is that networking is a skill and, like all skills, requires practice and development.
Networking at its heart is about building relationships. The most common mistake we can all be guilty of is speaking with someone and focusing on what we as the individual can get out of that time, or perhaps arriving at an event with a specific problem we want people to provide the solution for. One of the simplest tips to remember when meeting someone new is to take the front foot and ask them about them. More often than not you will organically find where your challenges, experiences and expertise cross and you will identify ways to help each other in a collaborative manner that benefits all.
Within SETsquared Bristol, one of the greatest benefits to membership is access to a supportive network of entrepreneurs and teams that are sharing the journey with you. Networking has looked very different since March 2020, but we have seen our SETsquared Connect virtual networking events remain popular, proving the demand for interaction and collaboration hasn’t been dampened and is in fact more important than ever in these times of social distancing and isolation.
We have also been running a Friday Founders Video Forum, a drop-in session open to all members and supporting stakeholders. Somewhat surprisingly, many of us have found an unexpected benefit of remote networking; it naturally encourages everyone to engage as a group and meet new people, rather than drifting to those you already know. It can also make meeting and speaking with others easier for some than they would have found in real life, and inclusivity promotes innovative thinking.
Alongside virtual networking, the Members’ Lounge in Engine Shed, where we are based, has reopened and I am enjoying engaging with people in person again. Networking in person can have benefits, often making the experience a little more meaningful and memorable.
My focus so far has primarily been describing structured events, as that is what most of us think of when hearing the word networking, however it’s important to remember that any good network requires nurturing. Bristol and Bath as a tech hub is famous for its community spirit and collaborative nature, something I’m proud to see is as strong as ever even as the region continues to garner national and international attention.
My advice is to get involved. Being active on social media can be the best way to remain visible and the more you provide advice and help to those in need, the more likely it is to be reciprocated when you need a hand. It’s also important to keep in touch with former colleagues and connections. If you see the chance to engage with someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, even with something as simple as a congratulations on a new role or a happy birthday, then do so and you’ll keep yourself on the radar.
Finally, I would say to be open-minded, be willing to introduce yourself to people you may not have thought to before. If networking is something you’ve always struggled with or has never appealed, then be forgiving of yourself too. It may come more naturally to some but like all skills, it is something you can learn and with every new conversation and new connection, we all find ourselves improving that skill a little more.
If you’re interested in learning how to network effectively, our Centre Director, Monika Radclyffe, runs an amazing workshop on the topic so keep an eye out for the next one! Sign up here to be the first to hear about our news and events.