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Career advice for mums: from career coach Frances Cushway

I’ve just set up my own Virtual Assistant business, and I’ve signed up to attend a couple of local networking events. But I’m so nervous about talking to new people. Do you have any tips for how I can feel confident and introduce myself at these types of events?

I certainly do, as this is something many of my clients struggle with too. One important thing to be clear on before you attend a networking event is what is your personal brand? What do you want to be known for or people to say about you when you’re not in the room? Is there an issue or problem you help companies solve? Is there a way you work that is unique to you? Why are you passionate about what you do? Being clear on your brand will mean when you meet new people you will know what you want to say about yourself and what you do.

Be clear on why you are going to the event. Are you going to meet people doing similar work? Are you looking to get information or develop your knowledge? Are you looking for new clients? Approach an event with one objective and it will be easier to focus on this and feel it has been a success.

When you get to the event don’t switch into ‘broadcast mode’ – where you are focusing on the message you are trying to get across. Instead look to start some nice warm friendly conversations with people.

Decide which person or group looks friendly, usually the best option is an ‘open pair’ – two people talking with space for someone to approach them. When they introduce themselves, use their names when you say hi to help remember them. Ask open questions and actively listen to their responses.

For example, find out what they do, maybe ask what they enjoy about it and what is happening in their industry now. If you are looking for new clients, it’s important to find out if the person you are talking to has a need for your services.

So, before you launch into a pitch ask some open questions to try and discover what issues the person you are talking to is facing. What are their needs? It might be that your services aren’t relevant or needed, but you can help them in another way by introducing them to one of your contacts who can help them.

Your new contact will really appreciate your help, and this will make you memorable. Look for opportunities to help others as much as to help meet your objectives.

When the conversation feels like it is coming to a natural end, if it feels right to stay in touch, swap business cards and suggest you connect on LinkedIn. Then see if there is anyone you can introduce your new contact to. And always remember if you agree to get in touch, or follow up with someone, do it!