Category Archives for "Networking"

Take the plunge to self employment
Oct 20

Lessons from 13 years of self employment

By Felicity Dwyer | Career change , Networking , Small Business

In October 2003, I took the plunge into the ocean of freelance life. I left a communications management role to became a self employed consultant, facilitator and coach.

13 years self employedIt’s been an exciting journey with twists and turns along the way. Over time my business has changed, and coaching and training now takes centre stage. I now run a management training business, and offer a career coaching service.

If you’re thinking about working for yourself, you may find these tips useful. They’re all based on my start up experience.

Plan ahead

If you are considering self employment in the future, think ahead and start planning now. Two things that helped me were saving up three months’ salary as a buffer, and setting up some freelance work before leaving employment.

Consider a part-time job

If finances are tight, consider looking for a part-time job to pay the rent. But be wary of part-time jobs with irregular hours. If you are going to work for yourself, you need to be disciplined about your time. This is easier if you have specific days in your diary to focus on your business.

Have a vision of where you want to go

Be clear about where you’re heading. I went freelance in order to control the direction of my own career. I knew that I wanted to earn my living through training, facilitation and coaching. At the time, I was known primarily for my research, writing and editorial skills, and in the first year most of my income came through writing. I kept my vision in mind, and gradually increased my training and coaching work as well as gaining extra qualifications in these areas.

Be strategic in accepting work

Because I knew where I wanted to go in my freelance career, I was selective in the writing work I took on. For example I was commissioned to write a training needs analysis toolkit, and a guide to leadership development. Both of these were very much in line with my strategic direction. I turned down other projects, which would take me too far off course.

Let’s be realistic, sometimes you may need to take work just for the money. But don’t fill up your whole diary with work that distracts you from your goal, leave some time for the “Oh YES!” projects.

Get comfortable with selling

People sometimes have a negative view of sales. Perhaps you see it as pushy or just don’t see yourself as a salesperson. But as a freelancer, or small business owner, you have to be able to sell yourself and your services. Selling is only unethical if you’re trying to persuade someone to buy something they don’t want or need. Ethical selling is simply the process of listening to your potential customer, identifying if and how you can help them, and offering them the chance to work with you.

Build your network

The biggest shock for me in going freelance was losing the day to day social contact of the office. Even through I had a good social life and plenty of activities in the evenings, I found the days a bit lonely at first. It was the support of my network, mostly people I’d worked with in the past, that kept me going.

NetworkingAs well as keeping up with people you know, it’s vital to extend your network – in the real world as well as online. This is probably easier that it was 13 years ago, due to a growth in local networking groups. In most areas there is choice of friendly groups emphasising support and learning, as well as more traditional referral networks focused on generating leads.

And I know networking can be effective – the first networking event I attended in my freelance career led to £3K worth of business! Of course this doesn’t happen all the time and it’s a mistake to go networking thinking that work will fall into your lap. But you certainly open yourself to opportunities  by getting out and getting known.

In fact I’ve got so much out of networking over the years that I’m now leading my own Fabulous Women and Marvellous Men networking group!

Over to you

If you are currently in business or freelancing, what helped you in the early days? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thinking of taking the plunge?

Are you considering self-employment? A modest investment in coaching can really help you clarify what you want, so that you make the right choices for your future. Working with a coach is a positive step to getting unstuck and much clearer about your next steps. For expert help, book yourself in for a free no-obligation chat about your future.  Find out more HERE.



LinkedIn on a mobile phone
Nov 30

Is your LinkedIn Profile up to scratch?

By Felicity Dwyer | Career change , Career development , Networking , Small Business

If your career or aspirations can in any way be described as “professional”, then you need to be on LinkedIn. And if you are on LinkedIn, your profile needs to represent you effectively.

LinkedIn is THE professional social network

Unlike other social media networks, LinkedIn is purely professional. And it’s huge, over 20 million people in the UK alone are on LinkedIn. You can use it to share what you do, and to build up credibility with endorsements and recommendations for your work.Continue reading

Felicity Dwyer
Oct 31

Find out what your dream job is REALLY like

By Felicity Dwyer | Career change , Career development , Networking

Starting a new career or business can feel like a shot in the dark. But there is a technique which can greatly increase your chance of success.

As part of a magazine feature, I met with professional photographer Sean Malyon to have my picture taken. Sean is very easy to talk to, and the hour spent being snapped among autumn leaves flew past.

We talked about career paths and Sean told me he is sometimes contacted for advice by aspiring portrait photographers. Many of them focus on the technical side of photography such as lighting. They want tips to help grow their expertise in this area.

But in reality, the portrait photography business is all about people. If you are not comfortable relating to different types of people and putting them at their ease quickly, then you are unlikely to be commercially successful.

Do your research

This example demonstrates the importance of doing your research when choosing or changing careers. It’s easy to build up an idea in your mind about a particular line of work, but you may find the reality is far removed from what you imagine. And the best way to get a true picture of a line of work is to talk to people already doing the job.

The process of deliberately speaking with an existing professional about their career path and working life is known as “informational interviewing”,

Dos and Don’ts of an informational interview

Do some initial research before seeking out people to interview. Do you believe a career within a specific profession or sector could be a real possibility for you? And have you discovered enough background information to prepare well for the conversation? You will get the best value from someone’s precious time by hearing about their personal experience. How did they get to be where they are? What are the most important skills and qualities needed for success? What challenges and drawbacks have they experienced? What are the downsides to the job? What advice can they give you?

Don’t try and use an informational interview to pitch for a job. The purpose is to discover more about a line of work and if it might suit you. It can help you figure out career paths, and to identify ways into an industry or section. Sometimes a conversation may result in job leads or opportunities, but don’t expect this and certainly don’t push for it. At the end of the conversation, ask your interviewee if they can suggest anyone else you could speak to. Getting different viewpoints is invaluable.

Find people to interview

Felicity Dwyer in AutumnThe first port of call is your existing network. Work out the type of people you need to speak to and reach out through friends, former colleagues and contacts for a friendly introduction. Don’t do this too soon, you don’t want to waste your best contacts by rushing in before you’ve done your research. But nor should you be shy about approaching contacts. Explain briefly what are looking to do, and ask if they know anyone who might be able to help. They can always say ‘no”, and that’s fine – not every request will get a positive response.

You can also approach people “cold” by writing a friendly email, explaining your situation, or by picking up the phone. Twitter and Linked In are good places to find relevant people. You might ask for a specified amount of time, perhaps 20 minutes. If you don’t hear back, you could consider sending a polite follow up email (but not more than one!)

If you are receiving a warm introduction via someone you know then you might ask for a face to face interview. My tip from being on the receiving end of requests for a interview is that if you’re approaching someone cold, ask for a telephone conversation. In all honesty, I’m unlikely to want to take time for a face to face meeting with a stranger. But I have been happy in the past to spend a few minutes speaking on the phone.

Follow up

Do follow up with a thank you message. Don’t send your CV unless you’ve been asked for it – nobody wants to receive an unsolicited CV.

Know when to act

Investing time in research will make it far more likely that you make the right career choice, based on reality not fantasy. And when you go in with your eyes open you are much more likely to be successful. There comes a time however when you need to take action. You can only know for sure that a job is right for you once you start doing it.

Photo credits: Sean Malyon

May 29

Why you need a mentor

By Felicity Dwyer | Career development , Networking

Do you have access to someone who has experience in your field of work, and who is happy to give you some help to develop yourself and your career? In other words, do you have a mentor?

A mentor can support your career progression. A good mentor will see potential in you that you may not be able to recognise, and help you to make your ambitions a reality.

Research from the CIPD (1) demonstrated that mentoring can be very effective in helping us gain knowledge, increase skills and act more effectively. It can lead to better management of career goals, and helps with developing a wider network of influence. And being mentored can increase confidence and self-awareness which leads to better performance at work.

A mentor would normally be someone in the same line of work as you, so they can offer you guidance based on experience. They can also help you to access networks and opportunities. A good mentor may also coach you where needed, helping you to clarify your own ideas for a way forward.

How can you find a mentor?

There are various ways to find a mentor or mentors. Some employers can help set up formal mentoring arrangements, so it’s worth asking about opportunities. Sometimes a manager can also act as a mentor. By which I mean they can help us to grow professionally and often personally, beyond the demands of our current job. I experienced this from one of my managers. Janet was an expert at developing her staff. She was willing to delegate and trusted me to take on extra responsibilities and to represent her sometimes at events. She also encouraged me to work towards a qualification which proved invaluable in my later career.

Mentoring BenefitsSometimes a mentor is someone outside the management structure. Someone we meet and connect with in the workplace, who teaches or inspires us. When I first met Maggie, she was a wonderful role model and helped me discover a career direction that finally felt right. Maggie was hugely encouraging, she could see potential in me and helped me develop it. And a few years down the line, we ended up working closely together.

Sometimes you might look for a mentor externally to your organisation, particularly if you want to change direction. You may be able to find a mentor by asking within your professional and social networks. There are also individuals who offer paid mentoring services.

We all need mentors, even if they are only informal ones. And we need different people at different times or in different areas of our lives. Sometimes a simple conversation over coffee can prompt a change, and that is all the support we need at the time. Sometimes we might need a lot more in the way of handholding and be willing to invest in a professional mentor or coach.

The value of being a mentor

When you have established some success in your career or business, it might be time to look at giving something back and offering some of your own time as a mentor. This can be very rewarding. The CIPD research shows mentors also benefit from the satisfaction of developing their colleagues and from passing on their knowledge, skills and expertise. And it can help develop your skills too. Sometimes it’s only by sharing what we know that we can hold a mirror up to ourselves and recognise the depth of our own knowledge and skill. And mentors can also learn from mentees, from their questions and perspectives.

Have you been inspired by a mentor? Or are you a mentor? Please share your experiences in the comments box.

(1) CIPD Learning and development survey 2008.


Networking for career development
Aug 14

Networking for career success

By Felicity Dwyer | Career change , Career development , Networking , Small Business

Meeting people face to face is one of the best ways to extend your network of professional relationships, and to find career and business opportunities. This is true even in this online era, and you will find online and offline networking complement each other powerfully.

Where to go to expand your network

There are lots of places where you can meet professional contacts. Try formal networking groups, informal events which combine socialising with opportunities to meet new people, conferences in areas of professional interest, training courses and seminars.

Set targets to help build networking confidence

If you are new to networking, it can be a bit daunting at first, to put it mildly. When I was first asked to attend events and conferences on behalf of my organisation, I didn’t find it particularly easy.  To help, I would set myself targets such as having two conversations with people I hadn’t met before, or making sure that I found and spoke to at least one person whom I’d identified in advance as being a good contact.  Then once I’d achieved my target I would tend to head for the door, usually quite exhilarated and glad I’d done it, but also somewhat relieved that it was over.

It gets easier with practice

Fast forward 15 years or so, and I feel quite differently about going to networking events. I get excited about the idea of meeting new people, look forward to the connections, insights and opportunities that might come up, and am happy to go up to people and initiate a conversation.  In fact I enjoy it so much that I now lead a networking group. So what changed?  Essentially a combination of practice, of reflection afterwards, and of coming up with strategies to make the process easier, more enjoyable and also more effective in terms of following up.

Stay in touch

Because meeting people is just the starting point, and the way you stay in touch and build connections and relationships is what will develop your network into something of real value. If you join a network with the attitude of “how can I help other people”, you will find it far more effective than if you only focus on what you want. So it’s good idea to get into the networking habit, even if you are not actively looking for a new job or career. It will allow you to approach the whole thing in a more relaxed way, gain confidence and connections, and then when you do need some help, you will have plenty of people to ask.

Networking tips video

Here are five of my top networking tips for small businesses and career changes.  I hope you enjoy this short video, and would love to hear your networking tips in the comments box below.

Since writing this article I was asked to contribute to a piece on networking for lawyers – this is an interesting article with great tips from a range of expert contributors: