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Think you hate networking? You haven’t met us yet…

Co-Women is the Sussex networking group for women looking to increase the amount of joy in their lives. Many of our members comment that they generally find networking to be stuffy, boring and pressurised. Here’s how Co-Founder, Becky, discovered the power to change her attitude…

As a child, my favourite panto was Dick Whittington (stick with me, this does link to networking) – I fell for the hype that the streets of London are paved with gold, and when I graduated from university in 2010, I followed the proverbial dream and went to live there.

In addition to discovering that pantomime was not real life, I found networking events to be a thoroughly miserable experience. At the time, I was in the events industry, and received lots of invitations to “venue showcases” which were also presented as “networking opportunities”. When you’re young and driven, this and free canapes (otherwise understood as a chance not to buy and cook food for yourself) sound like a great idea. The reality was very different.

The standard routine was that I’d be asked by other attendees how much spend I was responsible for signing off at my organisation. Typically, if the answer was below five figures, they weren’t interested in chatting at all. They were there to sell their product or service, not talk about anything else, and I was in a junior position which meant that I wasn’t even allowed to spend £10 without permission, never mind £10,000.

And so it was that I learned networking events were a miserable experience. When I left London with my tail between my legs after two years, it was a long time before I’d try again…

When I decided to start my own business, I felt that networking would be important. In many ways, it wasn’t even about selling my services. Having survived a pandemic and with the world feeling very different, I sought a support network. People who would raise me up rather than cut me down. People who wanted to hear what I had to say. People who could help me if I had what I thought was a stupid question.

After a few false starts, I found all of that in Co-Women. It still took me getting over myself. I had to figure out how to talk about myself in a way that was authentic, rather than having any other agenda. I had to get comfortable with showing up as myself, instead of who I thought the group wanted me to be, or what I thought was expected of a business person in the context of networking. And that’s actually really hard, because it involves shaking off years of conditioning in my case.

I started by listening. I attended an event where I decided to be fully open-minded. Not have any expectation of what I would come away with, which a lot of people will tell you is risky. So many people will tell you to decide prior to walking into a room what you want to leave with. That any whiff of uncertainty means that you are destined to fail. But isn’t openness in itself a goal? Being comfortable with whatever comes your way, and taking what is useful to you in that moment?

That’s what I did. I listened to the stories of other women, which they willingly shared. To me, this is one of the key differences from many of the rooms which are filled with men. They often want to talk about numbers and how much their business has grown and what specific product or service they’re currently looking for. They’re not so much looking to genuinely connect.

Whereas women are curious. They want to understand you. They want to help you. And they want to cheer you on.

Still struggling to believe me? Come along to one of our events. Let us sweep you up in our wave of fun, and help you to bloom alongside us. There’s always room for one more person, we don't care what your bank balance is.

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