Archives for May 2014

Why Asking “What Do You Do?” at Networking Events Doesn’t Work

I once went to a networking event where the first three people I came across all asked me the same opening question “what do you do?” By the time the last of those had asked me, I couldn’t help myself and responded with “Why was that the first question you wanted to ask?”

“I just wanted to know a bit about you” she replied. “Okay then, I have 2 sons, I play cricket and I hate spiders, does that help?”

6751047205_2df88f2ddc_zI’m sure my response didn’t endear me to her very much, but my point here is that asking “What do you do?” at the beginning of the conversation is irrelevant. Even if I sold the exact product or service my three questioners were looking for, they were no more likely to buy from me if I told them what I did, then they were before we met. Also, do we really care about the answers? “I’m the Business Development Manager of who gives a toss.” It may be easier to ask and state our name, rank and number, but far less interesting than what lies beneath our chosen careers.

In a recent blog, Ann Hawkins wrote about the importance of trust in a buying/selling relationship, and even if you’ve established a need, a want, a financial fit and a timescale, there’s still nothing to glue those factors together without trust. Ann states that “You win people over by consistently sharing your values, your beliefs, and your stories.” Therefore, asking what someone does for a business tells you little about who they really are, which is what we should be trying to understand.

What should I ask?
Build a conversation with a simple foundation question, such as “What brings you to this event?” By all means, ask them at some point what they do, but only when you care and you can see some potential in the relationship.

And the next time someone asks you “What do you do?” tell them what you’re passionate about, what really drives you, and then ask them to do the same. The conversations that spawn from this tactic will be far less predictable and so much more fascinating.

As Dale Carnegie wrote in How to Win Friends and Influence People…

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

We should all stop finding out what people do, and be more interested by finding out why they do it.

Your attitude is what makes networking work

The following is an article I wrote for Cambridge News entitled “Your attitude is what makes networking work” and is aimed at everyone who attends any form of networking event, from the nervous first-timer to the seasoned professional. Making networking work is the responsibility of everyone in the room, and here are some tips as to how:

01160021 - 250x375Picture this scene: You’re at a networking event, confidently chatting with new and familiar faces over a coffee.

What you don’t notice is one person stood alone at the coffee table and, as they don’t know anyone, their natural instinct is to find a corner of the room for shelter and watch nervously.

Networking events naturally attract various levels of confidence and experience, and it’s both important and rewarding to be aware of your surroundings. So, whether you are a seasoned regular at one or more events, or a nervous novice, here are some tips to help everyone get the best experience from their time.

I’m going to start with help for those who see the value of networking events, but need some encouragement to take those first steps.

1. The First Steps
The shy networkers that I’ve spoken with often imagine events to be full of suit-wearing, loud-voiced people with a confident swagger and an overwhelming persona.
We’re lucky in Cambridge that there are groups and events to suit everyone, and for most of them, this image is far from the truth. If the idea of approaching people you don’t know intimidates you, then your best option is to go to your first event with a friend. And, while you’re at it, why not go to an event that you’ve both never been to before.

2. Choose The Right Event
Make your first experience, one of city’s more informal events, such as Link4Growth, Inspired Group and the A14 Coffee Morning. (You can read reviews for these here) While you’re there forget the sales pitch and focus on getting to know the people you are there with.

3. Go Again and Again and Again
You won’t get fit by going to the gym only once, and you won’t grow your networking confidence with the same approach. Therefore, flex your networking muscles as often as possible by finding an event you feel comfortable with and, once you have, build it into your weekly schedule.

For more experienced networkers, don’t mistake shyness for rudeness. Just because someone at the event may not know anyone or carry the same confidence as you, you’ll never know how beneficial a relationship with them may be until that first conversation takes place. The one who will need to start that conversation, is you.

1. Look Around You
The first tip is an obvious one, and that is to be aware of your surroundings. Look to see who’s on their own or who looks lost, and make them feel involved while at ease.

2. Get To Know Them
This may seem obvious, but it’s more than just chucking questions at them. Whether you’re familiar with networking or not, I’m never a fan of diving in by asking “What do you do?” However, when you’re with someone who is clearly shy, don’t talk to them; chat with them. Ask them questions they’re likely to feel more natural with, such as “how was the traffic here?”, “what attracted you to this event?”

3. “I’d Like You To Meet Someone”
Finally, after you’ve chatted with them, introduce them to people you know and find a commonality between them both to kick-start their conversation.

You could make a big difference to the growth of a fellow business professional at the next networking event you go to. In the words of American author and poet, Maya Angelou, it’s always worth remembering that “people may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel”.


An Alternative Business Route in Times of Travel Disruption

There are many events that we can be sure of in life such as, most famously, death and taxes. For commuters, it is the realisation that, at some point, there will be severe disruption to their daily commute. Often this is down to a strike, adverse weather conditions or something completely unexpected.

However, despite knowing that this happens several times each year, employers and employees seemingly remain oblivious to the alternatives that can benefit them both.

Every time there’s a delay into work, frustration kicks in, morale suffers and productivity slows. Some reports even state each Tube strike costs the London economy anywhere between £50m-£200m each time, which may or may not be true. One thing is for sure, is that if you rely on commuters to travel in to your office to work, your business will be impacted and will suffer.

What is the alternative?

Imagine telling your employee that, due to an impending strike, they didn’t have to come in and could work from home instead. What impact do you think it would have on them and you? Well, they now won’t have to suffer the painful, seemingly unending commute and can work, fresh and happy. You’ll benefit from a more support and productive member of staff.

What can you do if they don’t have the space to work from home?

If your employee doesn’t have a space, or their home is busy with family or other home workers, there is still a successful answer. Thanks to the growing phenomenon of co-working spaces in the UK, your employee can take their laptop to a shared office space space, which is likely to be near to where they live (so, they still don’t have to commute), allowing them to work with hi-speed WiFi and in a productivity-inducing environment.

The end result is that despite the combined efforts of trade unions and nature, your productivity levels aren’t affected, morale remains high and deadlines are still met.

And there’s more…!

Not only that, but you never know who else may be the using the coworking space. It could be a potential client, supplier or a connection that takes you on the the first step of a new collaborative relationship.

taxi-1209542_1280If you are reading this as an employee: Go and find you nearest co-working space in preparation and present the idea to your manager, which will benefit them and you.

If you’re reading this as an employer/manager: Tell your staff that the next time their journey into work is likely to be affected, they can work from a coworking space instead.

It could be one of the best business decisions you’ve ever made!

Collaborating Businesses in The Heart of Cambridge

Cambridge Small Business Mastermind Group


How does this mastermind group work?

Each month, we run a breakfast meetup themed around collaborative problem solving. Bring the challenge that your business is facing to the event and, as a group; we will brainstorm solutions and work together to help your business as well as the others in the room.

What is the process?

Step 1: We start with one person’s business to ask what their challenge is.

Step 2: We go round to the room of business owners to give them the opportunity to ask any questions and understand the challenge of the business better

Step 3: Around the room again for each person to say “If this was my challenge, I would….”.

Result: The person who’s challenge it is would then have a number of solutions for them to choose from that will help them to move their business forwards

What is the benefit to my business?

There are no sales pitches, but there will be a variety of experiences and industries in the room, all there to help you overcome your business challenges. Whatever it is that is holding you back right now, you will leave a number of ideas to help you move forward.

Can I stick around and work afterwards?

For those who want to continue to co-work for the rest of the day & enjoy the benefits of working around others, with high speed WiFI and great coffee, there is a desk waiting for you at a discounted price.

Breakfast & collaboration – 8.00 to 9.30am
Coworking – 9.30am to 5.30pm

Breakfast – £10 inc Breakfast rolls, tea, coffee, juice
Coworking – £12 for the day (normal price £20)

Limited places: book now HERE!

Cambridge Business Lounge

Roadshow tour urges Cambridge’s small businesses to “get growing”

Small businesses in Cambridge are being encouraged to grow in 2014 thanks to a new Government-backed business tour.

get_growing5Get Growing! The Great British Business Roadshow – which is supported by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills – will visit Cambridge on May 12, providing advice, support and insights about growing a business from some of the countries leading small business support providers.

The tour is being led by pioneering cloud accounting company FreeAgent, who provide the UK’s market-leading online accounting system for small businesses and freelancers. It is also supported by other high profile service providers including PayPal, Constant Contact, Elance and Penelope.

Delegates who attend the event, taking place at The Hauser Forum, will receive a range of useful information designed to help them grow their businesses, as well as attending interactive workshops, networking with other local small businesses and learning more about local support available from the event’s regional partner Cambridge Business Lounge.

They will also receive exclusive offers on tools and resources that will help them run their businesses more effectively, and the chance to win £500 on the day towards growing their business.

Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock said: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and it is essential they are given the right advice and guidance for them to start-up and scale up. It is an important part of our long term economic plan that we provide them with the right environment to make the most of their ambition and aspiration.

“The Great Business Roadshow will mean that the country’s leading small business experts will be on hand throughout the country to provide insights on how to help your business grow.”

Ed Molyneux, CEO and co-founder of FreeAgent, added: “We work with thousands of small businesses across the UK, so we know how challenging it can be for them just to get established, let alone achieve growth. Many don’t have access to the kind of help or expertise that could make a real difference to their businesses – so that’s why we’ve joined forces with some of the country’s top small business experts to help them.

“Get Growing: The Great Business Roadshow is designed to not only help small business owners identify new opportunities that will help them grow and expand, but also to discover how they can run their businesses more effectively. By highlighting how they can save valuable time by making tasks like accounting and marketing easier, we hope to free people up to dedicate more time towards growing the other parts of their businesses.

“We’re looking forward to sharing our knowledge during these exclusive sessions, and I’m sure the tour will prove extremely popular with small business owners from Cambridge.”

For more information about the roadshow and details about how to sign up for upcoming events, visit