Are you self-employed in some capacity? Working alone? Tired of your own company? Connect to the network.

The world of networking. Because we all need to if we know what’s good for us. None of us is a self-employed island. Of course, it’s possible to go it alone, but life’s that much harder when you’re isolated.

There are droves of us out there, own-working in the parallel universe of self-employment. 

Our employed friends just don’t get the terror of it, or the (rare) euphoria, the drive, the penury or the hours.

If we’re lucky we might have an informal support group of like-minded friends and familiar colleagues to call on when things are dire or going well and we want to share the moment.

But a stranger can challenge us, call forth a different perspective on an old problem or offer insight into a growth issue or new idea, and that’s why structured networking can be useful.

Where else could you pin down a stranger and ask their honest opinion on that new thingummy you’ve been mulling over for the last six months (without getting quietly escorted away). You may need advice on how tackle a challenge, explore new markets or indeed look at ways of improving your bottom line costs. Networks are a great opportunity to share best practice and learn from costly mistakes – crucial when you are taking your first nervous steps in business.

You might even meet someone who’ll tell you what you don’t want to hear, without charging a consultant’s rate for it. And you might give someone else something to think about while you’re at it. Respectfully of course, and kindly if you can.

So what about it? Don’t be jaded. If networks haven’t worked for you so far, perhaps it’s because you haven’t been clear about what you want from them. Is it:

  • tea and sympathy
  • professional development
  • an opportunity to pitch

Look around and choose carefully, because they all offer something different. Know what you want when you go along and be prepared to get involved and help others.

There are wide range of networks across the North East ready to support you – and will welcome you with open arms.  From sector specific networks that could provide industry advice through to friendly forums and social groups full of like-minded individuals.  Some charge a small membership fee, others – typically run by local-authority based agencies – don’t.  There are gender specific groups, sector specific groups, clans, gangs and forums – all now online and live so you don’t even have to make the embarrassing first move when walking into the room for the first time.  It’s great way to start networking without feeling like a nuisance with nothing to say.

And if you don’t like it, go somewhere else. Find another set up. Just don’t give up. If you’re self-employed you’ll be used to that, tougher than that- used to the knock-backs, used to finding a way. Simply used to not giving up.