Wedding photographer Nikki Bowling has built her business through networking. Here she shares her story and her top tips for success.
I set up my business in 2001. After a few months of trying to make new contacts, one phone call out of the blue changed everything! It was from a financial advisor (who I didn’t know!) inviting me to a networking breakfast.
To be honest the thought of going terrified me! I was a new business with no confidence in speaking to “well established professionals” but I decided to give it a go. I knew I had to do something to kick start my business and I needed new contacts.
I was so nervous at the first meeting, but although I hated the thought of standing up in front of a room full of business people and introducing myself, I immediately understood the benefit of networking and decided to join.
That was 14 years ago! Since then I have done an awful lot of networking….. Breakfasts, lunches, evenings, full days, structured, informal…. I cannot stress enough the importance of networking for my business. It is all about building relationships so people can recommend me with confidence.
Initially I found networking very daunting and I got so nervous before each meeting. However I made myself go and the more I went the more my confidence grew and the more I enjoyed the meetings. Nowadays, although I do still get a little nervous when visiting a new networking event, I always really enjoy them and love meeting new people.
More than simply finding clients
Apart from getting new clients networking has been invaluable to my business in many other ways. It has built my confidence no end! From a very shy person who had sleepless nights about just introducing myself to new people, I have grown in to someone happy to stand up in front a room full of people and chair a full meeting, which I did every week for over a year.
The contacts and friends I have made over the years have been amazing. Anything I need in business, any questions or problems I have, I know someone personally who would be happy to help me. Also, the things I have learnt at networking events has been amazing. Talking to other people, as well as specific training events have helped me take my business to the next level.
A couple of years ago I decided to set up my own network for people in the wedding industry. I took the best bits from other events I have attended over the years, and created a format and invited trusted colleagues. 2 years on I still chair the meetings and the group is going from strength to strength. We have over 30 members, with a waiting list!
We do events, photo shoots, and wedding fairs together, and recently we ran a pop up shop for 3 weeks. We are friends and colleagues, and we get business as well as support from the group. I still go to many other networking events and love them, but I am very proud the wedding network is something I started all by myself and I do believe it is an amazing group to be a part of!
My top tip for networking?
Keep going! You need to attend meetings on a regular basis so people get to know you. Relationships take time to build, so give it time and enjoy it. I personally never spend money on adverts, I would rather my marketing budget went on networking – building trustworthy relationships.
A mistake to avoid?
I have seen this happen so many times…. Don’t try the hard sell approach! I have met so many people who just talk about themselves and show no interest in anyone else in the room. Ask questions, be interested in the person you are talking to, and don’t sell to them.
Be yourself and enjoy meeting a variety of new and interesting people!
Header photo by Pål-Kristian Hamre (this photo has been cropped)
Photo shoot and pop-up shop photos by Nikki Bowling Photography