Anxious avoider or confident connector: Which are you? 

With forward planning and a willingness to listen and learn, you can conquer your networking fears to strengthen your franchise

Anxious avoider or confident connector

Depending on your outlook, networking is either an opportunity for connection or an invitation to a vipers’ nest. You can tell yourself that everyone is out to steal your ideas and sell to you, or you can get curious about what you have in common, and how you might help each other. 

Here, Cheryl White, founder of the Mercury Franchise School Ltd, explains how to overcome your networking fears and draw strength from collaboration. 

The day I was hospitalised with burnout was the day I realised I’d tried to do too much, too soon, by myself. Intent on growing my home care company, I had neglected to build a network of support outside my immediate organisation – a mistake I will never make again. 

Ultimately, I franchised my business and Apollo Care became a multi-million-pound enterprise. I got my wellbeing back and found a new appreciation for collaboration – recruiting new franchisees and coaching them to success. But, as much as I love my team, I also recognise that I need to spend time with other people in this industry – attending events on the franchise calendar. 

Guest speakers at conferences always teach me something new. Hearing other franchisors’ success stories at award ceremonies keeps me hopeful and motivated. I’ve formed partnerships and had opportunities that would never have come to my door, and I feel closer to what’s going on with the franchise sector as a whole. Best of all, I have met people I can call on for advice and encouragement, and I’ve experienced the joys of mentoring others – sharing the benefits of positive psychology. My franchise is stronger and I feel more supported than ever, but what if networking feels daunting to you?

You will feel more comfortable and confident to network with a plan. Ask ahead about the format of the event so there are no surprises. Will you be expected to stand up and give your ‘elevator pitch’, or is it more relaxed and informal? Is there a dress code you need to observe? Will lunch, dinner or refreshments be provided? What about parking and other travel arrangements? Bring physical cash in case charity donations are invited, and have a strategy for swapping contact details. 

Naturally, you need to be able to talk about your franchise offering on the spot but, unless you are specifically at a sales event, do not make selling your focus. Instead, think of some advice you could ask for to help move your franchise forward, or a person who you would like to be introduced to. You are sure to have opportunities to do the same for others. 

More than anything, be prepared to listen. As Maya Angelou famously said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.” Active listening requires focus. Look attentively at the person you are talking to. Hold back from the impulse to interrupt with judgements or opinions. Show you have paid attention by summarising their points and provide feedback when invited. 

If you have social anxiety, plan how you will manage it. Arrive early to get settled or, if you prefer, slip into the room when it’s busier. Have a go-to breathing exercise to walk yourself back from the brink of panic, and an exit strategy for if you feel cornered in conversation. A survey by Simply Business found that 80% of business owners have struggled with their mental health at some stage. Mentioning that you feel nervous is more likely to solicit a response of: “Me too!” than unkindness or judgement. Some network hosts will even have designated ‘buddies’, who are on hand to put people at ease. At the end of the event, you will feel proud of yourself for facing your fears head on – even if there are rocky moments. 

Pulling up the drawbridge makes you feel safe, but you won’t conquer new territories behind castle walls. Venture out and spend time with other people in the franchise sector to learn best practice, be exposed to new ideas and forge the connections that will strengthen your position and sustain you. 

Cheryl White
Cheryl White