Women’s networking for beginners – what you need to know

Pink women's shoes of different styles

Women’s networking – what type are you?

Networking is to small business owners what adultery is to French presidents – without it they would be totally forgettable – it saves them from obscurity.

As the owner of your own business, you better be prepared to polish your elevator pitch, work the room and shuffle your business cards like a pro gambler or you might as well close up shop and return to the coffee morning circuit. No-one will notice your business and your client list will shrink faster than you can say: referrals.

Putting your best foot forward

As a journalist I’ve interviewed presidents (and their lovers for that matter), reported on groundbreaking conferences and interrogated people about everything from gardening to terrorism, but the thought of standing up in front of a group of power dressed women to talk about my business for one minute, makes me shake in my sensible shoes. I also don’t like to gush or smile too much and can be rather direct and honest, bordering on blunt, none of which really qualifies me as a great networker.

Women’s networking types and tips for dealing with them For any networking virgins out there – I thought I’ d identify some of the typical personalities you’re likely to encounter at a women’s networking meeting – and share tips for dealing with them.

The spiritualist – she appears to be on a different planet from the rest of the group. Dressed in flowing clothes with a spaced out look on her face, she’ll be flogging mind mappings, hypnosis or some Eastern-inspired therapy.
Favourite terms: Holistically and healing. 
Top Tip: Don’t ask open-ended questions unless you have lots of time and patience and whatever you do don’t tell her anything personal about yourself.

The image consultant – she will be the boldest, brightest and loudest person in the room, often sporting clashing neon colours that will be repeated from her eyelids down to her toenails – to strengthen the look. She will be positively bubbling over with confidence, tinkling with laughter while all the time glancing you up and down with a pitiful expression. Expect some ‘helpful’ suggestions for ‘image improvements’.
Favourite terms: First impressions count and capsule wardrobe.
Top Tip: Compliment her on her great taste and she’ll be your best friend forever.

The financial or legal expert – she is my ideal potential customer. Conservatively dressed with a no-nonsense hairstyle, she has more to say than the whole room put together, but she’s either too reserved, modest or boring to make anyone listen to her. And even when she thinks she’s doing brilliantly and everyone is enthralled, more than 70% of the room usually don’t have a clue what she’s on about. As a writer, I know how to turn what she says into the kind of stuff that people like you and me can understand. 
Favourite term: Cost analysis and economy of scale.
Top Tip: If you find one of these stumbling around helplessly on the networking circuit- give them my card.

The neurotic bully:  At first glance she’ll appear to be the kindest person in the room, caring and interested. But beware – those beady eyes are watching your every step to suss out if by any stretch of the imagination you could be competition and every ‘innocent’ question is carefully calculated to extract intelligence – to be used against you. She would pretend to be looking out for you, offer to work with you, buy you drinks and keep you a seat during meetings, just so you don’t speak to anyone else.
Favourite questions: So, how’s business?
Top tip: Don’t make eye contact. If she’s taking networking that seriously, imagine what doing business with her will be like.

The know-it-all: this one is equally hard to stomach and is usually a marketer or coach of some kind. She loves the sound of her own voice, never shuts up and knows more about every subject and industry than anyone else, including yours.
Favourite terms: “Personally” and “in my opinion”.
Top tip:  Don’t be afraid to interrupt and disagree. Most people in the group will secretly thank you for it.

The wild card: Apart from the typical profiles, every group usually has one wild card – someone who offers something completely off the wall – such as a pole dancing instructor, a foot clinician or a tarrot reader.
Favourite term: Special offer or voucher 
Top tip: Keep a straight face. Just because you can’t see why anyone in their right mind would need this type of service, doesn’t mean she can’t offer it.

Do you network for business? which type are you? Can you add some other types?   Any tips on how to get ahead in networking are most welcome…

How NOT to start your day… and other tips from an imperfect mum

A minion from Despicable Me close-up

Me in the mornings – how you don’t want to be

I am walking hand-in-hand with an unidentified handsome male on a deserted beach. I can taste the salty breeze, my companion – he has the same profile as George Clooney – turns to look at me…

The alarm on my mobile phone rudely interrupts my dream. I try to block out the sound, but the beach and the mystery man have gone and then I remember: It is 5.45am. This is MY hour, my window of opportunity in the next 24 hours to do something Just for Me before my day is swamped by other people’s demands and desires.

So, I get up quietly, slip on my airline socks and my husband’s fleece and sneak downstairs with my laptop to write on my novel or what I hope will one day become my novel. This is pure bliss, escaping into a different world of interesting characters created and controlled only by me.

A scene from a badly scripted sitcom

Like Cinderella dreading the moment when her carriage will turn back into a pumpkin, I watch the hands of the clock creeping closer to 6.45am, which will signal the end to my solitude, my calm and inner peace.

From the moment I wake up my daughter at 6.45am our house is transformed into a maddening, hysterical scene from a badly scripted sitcom.

My husband has woken up by now, grumbling about sitting in the traffic again while scavenging through his wardrobe for an ironed shirt. (He does his own ironing of course)  Any minute now the daily hunt for his company access card will kick off. He will be crawling around under the sofa, rustling through the washing basket and the boys’ toy box – cursing under his breath and accusing every woman and her dog of stealing or hiding his yellowing mug shot resembling someone on Prime Suspect.

Mutiny over breakfast

Poster of white text on red stating keep Calm and Carry On

More calmness needed in the morning

From downstairs my daughter starts her daily rant about the lack of choice on the breakfast menu, having dismissed 15 types of cereal and a selection of fresh fruit. Wait till she has a family and see if she’s still so keen on rustling up eggy toast or Nigella’s pancakes on a weekday morning.

The next one to surface is Max, 4, who solemnly announces that he’s not going to school today because his best friend stinks. This, rather than being a reflection of his best friend’s poor hygiene, is his latest ploy to try and stay at home because the novelty of school has worn off after just two weeks.

“I hate phonics. All we do is phonics. It is rubbish,” he moans through his Cheerios.

My husband, thankfully, has now left the house – minus his access card and dragging the overflowing bin behind him as he forgot to put it out the night before.

Child cruelty

The last one to rise is my 9-year-old son, Lukas, who tries to stay in bed as long as he can to resist my attempts at forcing him to do his 11-plus homework.

(If this sounds cruel – it’s not. We’re talking 10 minutes of maths or learning vocab instead of playing Fifa14 on the I-pad.)

Things start accelerating from about this moment. I realise there’s only an hour left before everyone has to be ready and out the door, including me.

My daughter is walking up the hill to the bus stop, the four-year-old is lying on the floor in front of my bathroom naked, refusing to move and Lukas is trying to see if he can take 30 minutes to put on one sock, one eye on the clock.

A race against time 

Max is refusing to get dress. I scream, cry, plead… in the end I challenge him to a dressing contest. I am halfway into my bra and knickers when the doorbell rings. My daughter has forgotten her bus pass and will now be late unless I drive her up the hill to the bus stop.

Lukas, seizing the opportunity, claims he absolutely can’t work out how many halves there are in three and a half without my help and downs his pen. Max, meanwhile, starts wailing because I’ve won the dressing contest unfairly as I had to quickly pull on my jogging bottoms and T-shirt to drive my daughter up the hill.

By the time I’ve deposited Lukas at the middle school 10 minutes late, having returned home once to fetch his forgotten football kit and dragging Max into the infant school, kicking and screaming, I’m very low on humour and badly in need of a strong coffee.

I return to my home office, climbing over discarded shoes and dirty washing, ignoring the mountain of breakfast dishes in the sink, ready to start my working day.

Does this sound familiar? What are your strategies for making the mornings easier?

If your mornings are more successful, please send me some tips and I’ll do a follow-up post with tips for other badly organised mums like me.

Scrabble letters spelling 'bad mum' words

Bad mums round-up on Britmums

And by the way, I am the editor of a monthly bad mums round-up for Britmums.  If you identify with my struggles and imperfections, drop me an email chenekoscielny@gmail.com or tweet me @CheneKoscielny your imperfect, humiliating, bad mummy posts and I’ll include them in the October round-up to make other mums feel a bit better about ourselves.

Is having fun on your to-do list?

Image of magnetic letters spelling having fun on a fridge

Has having fun disappeared off your to-do list?

My friend recently quit her stressful full-time job to stay at home. She’d been fantasising about this every day for the last 10 years.

Finally allowing herself the time to piece together the missing chunks of her children’s lives, at last having the freedom to arrange every minute of the day to fit her own agenda. She couldn’t wait to indulge her passion for cooking exotic recipes, join a running group and catch up with friends who’d been lurking at the bottom of her to-do list for years

Two weeks later and she’s as miserable and stressed as when she was working.”I can’t seem to enjoy it,” she says. “I think I need to go back to work.”

Every minute must count 

Another friend, about to take some well-deserved time off after years of spreading herself thinly on all fronts for years, has drawn up a list of planned activities that will make any senior company executive break out in a cold sweat:

Refurbish the house, landscape the garden, do a painting course, volunteer for a charity, Pilates sessions every day. The list is endless and is rattled off to everyone she encounters – daring anyone to doubt that every minute of every day at home will be spent productively.

On trend 

As with every other negative parenting phenomenon, I am bang on trend. My decision to realign my life with the things I care about and enjoy – my family and my writing, is a secret rebellion against an army of inner voices telling me that without a regular pay cheque, my self-esteem will be punched full of holes by every working mum I meet.

Even if we can afford it financially, and I’m very conscious that not everyone can, mums of my generation seem to be terrified of losing their grip – even just for a moment – on the slippery corporate ladder for fear that one misstep will send them sliding down into the doldrums of depression where their minds will rot away never to spark again.

Empty diary panic

Why does an empty page in the diary fill us with panic? Why do we feel the need to justify – even to strangers – a perfectly reasonable decision to take time out from the relentless and often unsatisfactory grind of being a working mum?

We are almost ashamed of the desire to spend precious hours with our children or just have a bit of time to ourselves, doing things that might not earn money, but could pay off handsomely in brownie points with our children and in self-fulfilment.

So where is this going?

Take my writing for example – I finally got myself as far as signing up for the creative writing course I always wanted to do – (my inner voice is still not talking to me) and I love it! But the niggling voice is there every time I leave the class – So, are you actually going to publish a book? This is all good and well, but where are you going with this? Are you going to make money (highly unlikely) or get famous (even more unlikely)?

I’ve never been driven by money – a new handbag or pair of shoes turn me on as much as the next woman – however, can I live without them – absolutely.

The real problem, I suspect, is that my sense of self is so entangled with my to-do list, that the thought of having a day without a plan or an activity without a concrete outcome – is like stepping off a cliff.

On the rare occasion that I manage to shake off those fears and anxieties, take deep yoga breaths, eat lots of chocolate and focus on enjoying what I’m doing in that moment – sitting on the carpet playing with my son or getting lost in my writing in a coffee shop – I feel like I am the person and mother I was meant to be.

And if I can build more of those moments into my life – who knows where that will lead?(See there I go again – why does it have to lead somewhere? It’s fun, I enjoy it – it’s good for my children and me. Is that not good enough?)

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Am I having a midlife crisis? Am I on my own out here? Anyone?

Why it is good to spend time with your bum in the air

Snoopy

Snoopy needs inspiration too

I spent most of the week upside down.

No, I’m not referring to some severely disturbed emotional state, although that probably also applies, I mean physically bottoms up.

This entailed bending over and looking through my legs, in-between school runs, checking Facebook and dusting the skirting boards. You’d be relieved to know I only assumed this position in my own home with the blinds drawn. (So far, anyway)

Why, you may well ask. Have I gone mad? Did I forget to take my tablets? Have I put my back out?

Nope. The answer is simple: I needed a fresh perspective – new horizons, a different way of looking at things.

Inverted tea pot

I also tried balancing on my head in the inverted teapot or whatever that yoga stand is called – as that’s meant to let the blood rush to your head infusing your brain with fresh ideas.  I quickly realised a flurry of new ideas would not be of much use if I broke my neck.

Actually, what inspired me to imitate a supersized bat was an instruction from the lecturer on my creative writing course: Describe an upside down scene in 500 words.

How hard can it be, you’d think. Well, it’s damn hard, nigh impossible. I felt like a dried out prune with every last bit of creative juice squeezed out of me.  I didn’t know where to start. My rational brain refused to flip my world, probably rightly thinking that things were hard enough the right way up.  So, I took to drastic measures, physically inverting myself in search of creativity.

Creative writing course

“Let’s get this straight,” my husband had said when I first informed him that I was finally going to do the creative writing course I’d always wanted to do but never got round to.

“You’re going to spend a fortune on a course that has no guarantee of ever bringing in any money.”

The voice of reason, the rational, responsible one… my lord and master.

Needless to say – I ignored him.

And at first it went really well. I loved being out in London, thrived on discussions about characterisation and finding your voice over free coffee and biscuits.

Until I had to actually write something…

And read it out to the class.

Carnage

The bunch of sweet and innocent looking young people – apart from one other fellow journalist and jaded soul – turned into a pack of bloodthirsty wolves, setting upon my carefully crafted words with sharpened teeth and drawn-out nails, tearing my work apart sentence by sentence, chewing and spitting, shredding my hopes of ever being on the bestseller list.

That was a week ago. Meanwhile, I’ve band-aided my ego with yoga sessions, lots of chocolate and pep talks from girl friends, who relate to the crossroads faced by a 43-year-old mother trying to find her way back to herself.

I have also purposefully avoided the kind of people – men and women – who will sell their souls as long as they got a good price for it.  The kind of people who measure self-fulfillment by the number of zeros on their pay cheque or John Lewis labels in their living room.

Needless to say, I didn’t mention my little setback to my husband – and I didn’t think he’d take too kindly to me spending half the day upside down (unless of course there was money in it)

So what have I learned from spending time with my bum in the air?  And more importantly what can you learn from this – as apparently the whole point of blogging is to “give” people something.

Why YOU should spend time upside down:

Herewith my insights – for what they’re worth:

  • It’s never too late to pursue your dreams
  • It may not be easy at first – but persevere
  • Don’t feel guilty about going for something you want – you deserve it
  • Surround yourself with positive, nurturing friends
  • Avoid people who make you feel bad
  • Spend some time upside down – it really does give you a fresh perspective and if nothing else, you’ll be inspired to clean the skirting boards.

PS. If you enjoy my writing, please spare me a few pence… no, seriously please VOTE  for me as  I’m a semi-finalist in the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards in the Writer and Commentary categories, If you like what you read, I’d be so very happy if you voted for me.

Click on the badges below and tick the box next to Whyishersostroppy under WRITER and COMMENTARY to vote. It’s ever so easy. Thanks.

NOMINATE ME BiB 2013 WRITER

NOMINATE ME BiB 2013 COMMENTARY

The silent breast pump and other lies by power mums

Image

I’ve got two degrees and a few certificates to my name, most notably a South African law degree (useless anywhere else) and a journalism masters (useless everywhere).

The certificates enjoying pride of place among children’s artwork and the family weekly planner on my study wall, equip me with such sought after skills as reporting on AIDS and teaching English to foreigners.

These framed accolades are all that remain of the career aspirations I once had.

They also suggest that I once must have had a fully functioning brain with eager grey cells sparking excitedly like toddlers on a sugar rush every time they got to file away new information. Little did they know…

Those once animated cells have turned into bespectacled, slippered slouches, worn-out after 11 years of helping me function as a half-decent mum of three, while desperately clinging to the coat tails of my career.

In fact, my brain cells go on strike causing me to want a lie down every time I read an article about another superhero working mum telling women they can have it all.

The last such article was a review of Lean In, a new book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, which made me so fatigued I had to ask my husband to do his share of the domestic duties (one of Sandberg’s gems of advice). He got as far as picking up his underpants from the floor.

Mrs Sandberg, who at 43 is the same age as me but looks 10 years younger, wisely opted to study something slightly more useful than journalism – and was top of her class at Harvard Business School before filling high-powered jobs at the US Treasury, World Bank and Google.

The reason, she says, that my poor brain has all but seized up and my day is a survival struggle from when I stumble out of bed to make lunchboxes until I stumble towards my first glass of Chardonnay (in the evening I should point out), is because I didn’t LEAN into my career.

I’m really too exhausted after three bundles of washing, the weekly shop and homework duties to read her book but one of the ‘inspiring’ examples she apparently quotes, includes a super-efficient friend who puts her children to bed in school clothes to save time in the morning.

She probably also substitutes bedtime stories with a power point presentation for the next day and flosses her teeth while having sex, to squeeze in a few extra minutes.

Mrs Sandberg proudly reveals how she secretly pumped breast milk while on a teleconference, pretending the beeping of the breast milk machine was a fire engine.

I found swapping from one monstrous mastitis ridden boob to the other, attaching and reattaching the breast pump to extract a few more drops, painful, uncomfortable and stressful.

Doing this while discussing million dollar deals with Mark Zuckerberg-types on the other end of the line, inventing lies to cover unpleasant background noises sounds like a recipe for a stroke. This is progress for women?

It reminds me of a rather nasty incident when I was interviewing a male neuroscientist over the phone from home.  I was potty training my toddler at the time and he ran into the room announcing that he needed a poo and threatening to do it on the kitchen floor.

I failed womankind by ending up frazzled, with poo on the floor and a disgusted neuroscientist on the other end of the line

Sandberg’s book doesn’t inspire me to Lean In – it makes me want to Lean Away from the madness of telling women they can have it all.

It also makes me want to Lean ON something. This is not helping women – it’s making them feel even worse about not being perfect at everything.

More helpful titles from the likes of Sandberg, would be:

Trust me, you don’t want my life – it sucks

The silent breast pump and other lies by power mums

Do you think women can have it all? 

If my blog posts make you LOL, smirk or smile wryly, please nominate me for the BIB 2013 Laugh award by clicking on the badge below. (or even if they don’t, but you just want to be nice…)

NOMINATE ME BiB 2013 LAUGH

Productively tweezing hair working from home

coffeeandcinnamonroll

I’m writing this while ‘working from home’ because something really got up my nose and I can’t share it with anyone around the water cooler because there is no water cooler and my only colleague is the imaginary friend I invented when I started telecommuting. (Professional speak for working from home)

I’ve had three coffees, a homemade smoothie and a second breakfast, stacked the dishwasher, blow dried my hair and re-organised the toy box – so it’s almost 11am, but I just had to get this off my chest first.

Just exactly who does this Marissa Mayer woman thinks she is? Never heard of her until this week – so just Googled her to try to understand what possessed the 37-year old new Yahoo boss and mum of one to ban home working in a company that must surely have as one of its primary business objectives to drive more people online.

Telecommuting is only possible because of the internet, an industry which will allow the lovely Marissa to take home a cool basic salary of £77million over the next five years. (This is not counting shares and bonuses of as much as £45 million per year.)

For that sort of money I could probably be persuaded to commute into the office naked on a unicycle every day, but that’s not the point.

(You’ll excuse me if I just go and tweeze a stray hair from my left eyebrow at this point. It’s really disturbing me and so hard to concentrate when you’re not surrounded by hard working colleagues.)

What outrages me is the suggestion that speed and quality are sometimes sacrificed when working from home.

If anything, the quality of my work really benefits from the daytime television and Internet surfing I manage to squeeze into my hectic day.  Speed is also not sacrificed, because I can now paint my toenails, wipe my toddler’s bottom and cook tea, while taking part in an important teleconference.

According to this poster girl for working women, home-workers are also starved of the creativity of working with others, which affects their work… affects their work…affects their work, have I mentioned it affects their work.

(Sorry, must be the lack of stimulation from colleagues)

Which reminds me, the last time I was in an office, I worked in a very small room with two men, one more boring and up his own behind than the other (they often are, aren’t they?). One was obsessed with Formula one racing and the other one was the world expert on everything including child birth and I quickly learned to avert my gaze and avoid all conversation if I wanted to get some work done or didn’t want to be bored to tears.

As far as meetings go – I can probably count on one hand the meetings I went to in my many years of working full time in an office, where a) I learned something b) anything useful was decided or c) anyone was creatively stimulated by what anyone else was saying or doing.

And sure, if I was earning millions of pounds for every article I write (cherish the thought) and could persuade someone to build a fully staffed nursery for my own children next to my office, like the ever considerate Marissa has done before decreeing all other mums at Yahoo had to be separated from their children, I might swop my slippers for stilettos and my telecommute for a chauffeur-driven Ferrari ride into the office every morning.

Anyway, now that I’ve got that off my chest, I really have to dash to fetch my son from the nursery (which was not custom built for him) and bring him home for a spot of lunch. Perhaps I’ll work a bit more later…

Quite pleased with myself really – This has been one of my more productive mornings this week!

Do you work from home? Would you be more productive, creative, in an office?