In my last employed job almost everyone’s role included some networking, the success of which was measured not against the potential benefits of making the connection but against the length of time (the longer, the more impressive), the venue (if a Michelin star was involved, all the better) and the wealth of the guest (Times Rich List members preferred). I still remember the black look thrown at me by the chief executive when I declined to join him for some “hobnobbing with four millionaires” at a celebrity chef’s restaurant.
Yes, of course I built strong relationships with the organisation’s members and, no, my answer wasn’t driven by arrogance. I needed the time more than I needed to support his ego boost.
When I went freelance I decided to liberate myself from networking lunches believing that, with so many independent cafés a short walk from my front door, mid-morning or mid-afternoon hour-long sessions over a cup of delicious coffee would be more productive.
Inevitably, freelancers desperate for work have to network wherever and whenever – and compromise (what, me?) has to be faced.
Well-known organisations (chambers of commerce, BNI) tend to meet at breakfast which, for anyone who washes their hair every morning, means a five-thirty alarm call for a seven o’clock sharp start. Business gained by me (I gave them all a good go)? None – probably because my “one minute to win it” was spoken in tongues, the only language I can manage after a short night.
So I was thrilled when I discovered a couple of networking groups which deliberately avoided power breakfasts. Recognising how women prefer to work, they met in the evening over high-class nibbles and drinks. Business gained there? None. Be warned. If you admit to having organised anything, you will be roped in … I seldom networked for me; I networked for the group.
Out of the blue an email invited me to the launch of a new group. In my town and for women. We met … over lunch (yes, yes, but it was informal and infrequent – monthly – and it worked). Business gained? A sizeable commission at the second meeting on the back of which I gained another through which I got a third – and the first came back for more.
Four years later, it happened again. An email bounced in announcing a new networking group. Several emails followed – from friends, all asking if I’d heard about it and would I be going. Held in a local restaurant, the cost brought two drinks and a range of nibbles. Will I go again? Despite it being at lunchtime, the buzz was energising and the potential – well, who knows, but some useful contacts were made. It’s time to eat not lunch but my words.
Eating my words (drinks party small eats)
No recipe for this one. No photograph either (I forgot to get out my camera). I hope you can picture the scene …
- Mini croques monsieur – three-bite rectangles, slightly burnished from a very buttery frying, with a generous dollop of proper creamy béchamel sauce wobbling on the top
- Blinis, lavishly buttered when warm, with smoked salmon and a sprinkling of lumpfish roe (I’d have added a coffee spoon drop of crème fraiche and a snip of chives)
- Tiny pastry cups of an unidentifiable veggie mix with raw onion (why raw onion when trying to make a good impression is the priority?)
- Rounds of fried bread (yet more more butter) with a generous twirl of rare beef on top (they never reached me, stuck in the centre of the room with much of the food passing round the edges)
- Small choux pastry lozenges filled with cream and drizzled with melted chocolate (easy to scoff, as many did though not savoury-toothed me)
- Slivers of flaky pastry with slices of strawberry layered above crème patissière (very hard to pick up and eat, leaving many with sticky fingers and gloopy lips).
My mother called this sort of food “small eats”. I find the term so much more reassuring, and wholesome, than “canapés”.