Once, in the not so dim and distant past it was acceptable and even expected that the first born son would follow in the family business taking on the family title. The second son would go into the Church, subsequent boys went to the army. Daughters would marry to enhance the family’s standing and fortunes. Love, it seems was a rare occurrence within marriages particularly as the nobility of the family became more prominent. Poorer families also followed this tradition to some extent; the sons would go to work with Dad and girls go into service with Mum or elsewhere. Jane Austen depicts the expectations and conventions in graphic terms throughout her books. Strains of this antiquated custom still exist today particularly within royal or titled families.
As history comes a little more up-to-date the Old School Network mentality expanded particularly in business. You sent your son out to work for someone with whom you already had a connection. He had already attended the school of his father and would wear his old school tie to interview; most likely being interviewed by an old school friend of his fathers. Regardless of capabilities or personality he would get the job on the strength of his connection.
Of course now all this networking is history and we are all judged on our aptitude and ability, or is it?
I have found networking alive and prospering; albeit in a different guise, the old school network may not recognise.
I was very lucky to have been invited to, a Women in Business (WIB) lunch which opened my eyes to a completely new way of working. We arrived and I was asked to put a business card on everyone’s plate. Not very appetising my business card; but then I found cards already placed by all the other women. A short welcome and we were invited to sit I thought for some food, after all I had eaten a tiny breakfast in anticipation and that was so long ago.
Very kindly the lady who appeared in charge decided to start at the furthest point away from me so I could watch proceedings, I waited as the ladies tested whistles, football rattles and a small child’s wooden tambourine. Having decided on the football rattle the ladies started from the furthest corner. They all seemed very comfortable and all knew each other as they gave a one minute opener to their business; the purpose of the rattle was to tell them time was up. Some went over, some didn’t get to the rattle and a few, very few were spot on.
I watched in horror as the speeches got closer and closer to me. Was I actually supposed to tell them what my business was, in one minute! Closer and closer, I wriggled in my seat which now was not as comfortable as it had been. I looked at the Impressive list of visitors on the agenda and listened to their polished performances. I was in trouble and I didn’t know how to make the world open up and swallow me.
All too quickly it was my turn. All eyes turned on me and I mean all eyes watching to see what I was going to deliver. I could feel the room getting hot and my mouth so dry. Slowly I took a sip of water praying I didn’t choke on it. I opened my mouth as a high pitched squeak came out “ I am….. and I work for…..!” As I launched further into my selling spiel my eyes firmly set on the rattle holder hoping to get everything said before she time outted me. I could see her twitching, her hand moving slowly towards the rattle and glancing back to her phone with the timer. I finished off “so I am really hoping this will launch and be successful”. I sat down with a heavy thud as the rattle sounded the end of my allotted time.
Apologies to the ladies that followed me I really did not hear their speeches. I drank copious half glasses of chilled water, my hands shaking as I lifted from table to mouth. My face gradually began to cool and hopefully return to a normal colour and my breathing became a little less fast and furious.
Having finished the openers we then had to endure longer looks at two of the businesses. Fascinating as they were my stomach was by now turning somersaults at the indignity of not being fed. I felt embarrassed at the competition of my stomach rumbling above the poor ladies presenting their in depth insight into their businesses.
There was food eventually and I tucked in as if I had been starved forever. My stomach by now resigned to the fact it was never going to be fed again had twisted itself into knot upon knot with the cocktail of emotions I had already been put through. Each mouthful struggled to make its way past all the emotive twists causing me to feel nauseous and full. Unlike me I did not finish my plate although it was delicious, and on a future visit to that pub I will order it again.
Naively I thought it was all over but before we were dismissed we had to stand again without timer and tell people of recent successes through the network and ask for a one to one with whoever might be able to give us some leads. Followed by, the sudden onset of vultures picking at the carcass of their prey. The faster quicker vultures win the richest pickings. I, being the victim had enough meeting opportunities to never actually work again but would any of them bring me business?
One visit I did accept was to a BNI (British Networking) Chapter breakfast meeting at a nearly local hotel. I walked terrified in to a room full of mainly men and felt them watching, waiting, willing the moment to come when they could pounce and win the best deal of the day. An even more formal and focused networking group where you must attend breakfast every week or send another representative. The onus is on you to bring a lead to someone each week and to report back on any you had been given.
I am not good at saying no but I surprised myself when put on the spot at the end of the meeting and asked if I wished to part with large sums of money and commit myself to every Friday morning. I actually said no, surprising not only myself but the many round me. I did explain that as a sole trader the commitment was too much and when I could afford that kind of money I would probably no longer need the leads because I would have to be very very successful indeed. I wonder what the old school network would make of these updated and focused networking clubs.
I have since declined several further invites to similar groups and have opted instead to join my local Chamber of Commerce who seem to be working to the same goal as me; helping local businesses survive and flourish, rather than their own purses. I am also embracing the new internet networking medium of twitter and facebook which are reaping rewards of their own as I gain business from those friends I thought I had lost contact with, or followers of followers. Despite all this networking I have found that the best advert I have, has been the first edition of the magazine which has sold itself.
I am sure the old school network of historical England would never approve of these social networks but they have their place and as a marketing tool in this recession hit land should we not use every tool at our convenience and pull our country through.
Check out and see what I am cooking up this week on Teatime Treats with Tiggy