Sunday, 05 December 2010
Recently I wrote a blog post about using social media to make new friends and build relationships when socializing in the ‘real world’ can be difficult for those of us with Aspergers. Yesterday business networking went virtual too when a BNI Chapter local to me (Croydon) held the world’s first ever ‘Tweet Meet’ – a BNI Breakfast networking meeting held entirely on Twitter! Minus the breakfast in my case though! I’m a member of the Redhill BNI Chapter and as soon as I heard this meeting was happening, I knew I wanted to be a part of it!
You can read the whole story here which also links to my business blog page. I thought it worthy of a mention on this blog too as I know many adults with Aspergers do set up their own business and may be wary of attending business networking events due to the anxiety and stress they invoke.
Whilst this was a very new way of holding the meeting and it only came about due to the snow we are experiencing in the UK right now, social media is set to take off in a much bigger way than it already has. There are already online forums which exist for businesses to join and build virtual relationships and these can be a great way to source suppliers or new business online. Twitter is phenomenal for business networking. I have met and got to trust lots of other business owners this way – I’ve even found new clients in people I have only met via Twitter. Facebook too has groups and you can search easily for a group or fan page which specialises in the sector you work or wish to do business with, where you will meet likeminded people.
It’s been said that people with Aspergers are natural Entrepreneurs but I know from experience that setting up your own business can be jolly scary for an Aspie used to the security of a permanent job. I went into business when I lost my last temporary contract in the summer. I had been daydreaming about being able to work from home but the fear of the unknown had stopped me pursuing my dream. Once I found myself jobless, it felt a much more natural time to ‘give it a go’. I was out of work anyway so had nothing to lose.
Business networking was the aspect of being self employed which scared me the most. However, I realized I needed to attend events as the more people I met, the higher the chances of making my business a success. I looked around for groups to attend and settled on BNI which is a global organization with groups in most towns and cities worldwide. I chose BNI because I knew that I would be the only social media business in my group. Attending the meetings is something we need to overcome the Aspergers anxiety to achieve but I think getting myself there and realising I had competition from other social media businesses would have been too much stress. Well, I don’t think, I know. I’ve been to this kind of meeting before and having to stand next to someone who runs the same type of business and state why yours is better than theirs to a client interested in the service is horrendous! I don’t like upsetting people and it feels like I’m running them down if I say this. I’d be useless on The Apprentice for that very reason!
The first time I went to a BNI meeting I was absolutely petrified. Honestly. I didn’t sleep much the night before and I was shaking like a leaf when I was travelling to the venue. As soon as I arrived, all the other members were so friendly and welcoming that my fears evaporated. This seems to be true of other BNI groups too from what I’ve seen. Certainly the group who held the Tweet Meet yesterday and BNI HQ staff who I have been in contact with since have been lovely. If you are an Aspie running your own business and are looking for a networking group to attend, I would recommend you try BNI if you have a local group and your sector is free. Once you are a member of a Chapter, you can visit other Chapters providing your sector is free. Luckily for me, when I approached the Croydon Chapter Director about joining their Tweet Meet, I was given permission as my sector was free in their Chapter.
So while online networking meetings are not yet the norm, you don’t have to be afraid of them. Grab a handful of courage and make the effort to go along. You never know, at some point in the not too distant future, these Tweet Meets may even become the preferred method of holding most of the meetings. I can’t see them ever completely replacing face to face networking but they could reduce the number of events you physically need to attend. If this is your dream too – go for it! Good luck!