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Just two years ago, I left the comfort of my career as a Solicitor to set up my own business, Links2Leads, as a LinkedIn Profile Writer & LinkedIn Coach. It was a huge step for me and never would I have dreamed that I would become a Finalist as “Networker of the Year” for the Venus Awards in the Thames Valley.

I was of the opinion that for a business to succeed, I had to invest my time in creating real and lasting professional relationships. One of the best ways to do that was to go & join/attend networking groups.

Preparation was key. I researched online and made a list of all the local networking groups in the Reading/Berkshire area.

A few of my business contacts recommended BNI so I attended a couple of meetings as a visitor. They were very structured business meetings. It was evident to me how the members were actively trying to help each other by highlighting the need for constant referrals within the Group. The fact that they met weekly was deepening the bond between the members. However, this was not a networking Group that I could join because I am a mother with two young children. The 6.45am starts clashed with my need to look after my children and take them to school. If you want to know more about visiting a BNI Group though please speak to my fellow Finalist, Lisa Chaffey.

Because of my time constraints as a mother, I chose to join The Athena Network. This group suited me because they met monthly and from 12-2.30pm. Because there were hardly any LinkedIn Experts within the Reading area, I was able to visit most of the other Groups that my Regional Director Debbie Atkins had and to the other Berkshire Groups that Karen Fowler and Debbie Miles ran. This allowed me to maximise my annual membership fee and for a small visitors fee to really spread the news far and wide.

I also volunteered consistently for the ten-minute speaker slots within the various Groups so that I could educate the members about LinkedIn and how it could grow their business. (Incidentally, if you have an issue about public speaking, then speak to Grainne Ridge or Dawn Gregory as I have heard excellent feedback about their courses).

10 to 12 networking Group run by Karen Livingstone and Issy Wiggins Turner was also a good and welcoming place to network with other local female business owners. They had three focused ten minute 121’s within the meeting along with a Speaker Slot and educational topic.

Once a month, I would also attend the First Friday Club. This was a different type of networking Group. There was always a “Speakers Slot” but this was a very informal gathering of local business people. Good food and drink by the venue host were a bonus! It is also free but it is advisable to register beforehand as I have seen people being turned away due to the high attendance.

4N run by Gordon Hewett was something a lot of people recommended to me but the early morning sessions counted them out for me too.

I was really pleased when Gordon Hewett & Grosvenor Casino Reading teamed up for a Biz2Biz monthly networking event held from 12-2.30pm. Free parking at the casino was a money saving bonus along with a lovely spread of food for a nominal amount. I really enjoyed the speaker’s slot and business doctor sessions.

Business Biscotti run by Sue Reeves and her team of ambassadors is also highly recommended. For a nominal joining fee, you can have access to a wide range of meetings.

Last but by no means least, I joined the Institute of Directors in September last year. I managed to join this networking group for the sum of £99 for the year, due to the fact that I was under 40 and fulfilled other selection criteria. I have met some very diverse professionals, including a dinner/talk with Alok Sharma and networked at some delightful places like Coworth Park. Juliet Rushent is the administrator for the Berkshire IoD branch and she works very hard to ensure a diverse range of networking and educational sessions are run.

There are of course many other local networking Groups but I have yet to experience them.

I hope you have or will find this short guide about Reading Networking Groups useful but please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or visit my website https://www.links2leads.co.uk for my full contact details if you are a start-up business and want to know more about networking or you are an established business and you want some further detailed feedback on where/how to network within the Reading/Berkshire area.