Apologies in advance …. this isn’t your usual blog post because it’s actually a story, the story of a big chunk of my life. It is long, but I hope you’ll find it interesting, inspiring even. But if you haven’t got the time or the inclination to read it all, the shortened version is here!
If there’s one thing that has made a huge difference to my life in the last few years, it has to be 4Networking. However, for me to explain just how much 4Networking has helped me – in life as well as in business – I have to go right back to my life before 4N – for indeed there is life before 4N.
After my A levels I went to work in the world of publishing, doing production work on magazines and newspapers. I met a man, fell in love, had a couple of kids … but it wasn’t as smooth as it sounds, because it was a very controlling, sometimes violent relationship, and it completely destroyed my self confidence. In 2001, with the help of friends and family, I finally managed to escape and made a fresh start with my children. Life wasn’t easy by any means, but gradually my confidence started to come back. I went to college and did a degree – passed with first class honours, in fact – a minor miracle given that my son, 6 at the time, had been having a lot of problems, was diagnosed with ADHD and mild autism which can make him aggressive and even violent, and he was permanently excluded from school in my final year.
In 2005 we made another fresh start. I’d met “the man of my dreams” and we moved to Oxfordshire in preparation for our marriage. The children started in new schools, which seemed to be working well for them both, and I got a job working for a stock photography company, doing picture research. I loved the work but it was quite a corporate company and I realised that I was a square peg in a round hole there and I probably ought to leave before I was sacked! Over time my son’s behaviour began to slip again, to the extent that I was being called to collect him early two or three times a week, which didn’t go down well with my boss, either. So when I came across the opportunity to run a franchised local magazine I thought my luck was in … I’d loved working in publishing and I relished the chance to build my own business – plus it would give me the flexibility to be around for my boy too.
So in April 2007 I found myself self employed with no clue how to actually run a business – and it’s around this point that 4N enters my life. I had a phone call from some bloke called Stef Thomas who was also running the magazine franchise, in the town next to mine! We met up for coffee and he told me all about this networking group he’d just joined and how good it was. I’d never done any sort of business networking at all but I thought I’d give it a go … so on 15th November 2007 I went along to my local group, Faringdon. I was hugely nervous – even more so because doing the school run meant I couldn’t get there till 8.45am! – but everyone was so welcoming that I really enjoyed it, and signed up for a trial single group passport – which was 3 months back in those days. (Incidentally, I’ve just noticed that there were only 10 people at my first meeting – so who says small groups don’t work!)
Every other Thursday I’d go along to the meeting and sell, sell, sell advertising in my magazine. OK in reality I didn’t – I tried, but I’d completely missed the point and I sold very little. But I did have fun, I loved being part of a group, I made some valuable contacts, I grew in confidence and I became a very active member of the online forum, which I loved.
Then disaster struck – I entered 2008, the worst year of my life. In January my son was permanently excluded from school again following an ADHD meltdown and assault on a teacher (which led to him, at 10, being questioned at our local police station and given a warning) and he spent the next 8 months at home with a tutor coming round for a couple of hours a day. As well as my own business, I’d recently become part of a call answering team with two other 4N members and trying to run one business and work in another while looking after an angry, stressed, depressed, hyperactive 10 year old was tough. I managed to keep it going but the business really struggled. I couldn’t get out networking any more, so when the trial passport expired I just let it go. In the following months my marriage of 2 years broke down completely, and the kids and I had to find somewhere to live quickly. My son became very depressed and often violent and was difficult to cope with.My daughter was doing teenage type things that kept me awake at night. My nan had a stroke and wasn’t expected to survive (she did!) Our beloved cat Peaches became very ill, very quickly and had to be put down. And my own health suffered – I was diagnosed with arthritis in one knee and on bad days I couldn’t move; I was depressed and stressed and came pretty close to having a breakdown.
You know what kept me going through all that? 4Networking. Yeah, I know that sounds really cheesy – but at a time when I was struggling to keep everything together, being able to escape to the forum and chat with people who knew nothing of what was going on in my personal life was vital. For all those months I couldn’t get to meetings but being able to network online with like-minded people really did make the difference between me hanging on to reality and completely losing the plot. So yes, I owe my sanity to 4N!
Of course, there was light at the end of the tunnel. In September my boy got a place at a special needs school and, touch wood, everything has been good for him since. I was able to rejoin 4Networking but this time I decided to simply go out and meet people – none of this selling lark. And you know what? This new “hands off” attitude worked and I started to pick up business – a few ads here and there but more importantly I started doing proofreading and got a few quite big jobs both through meetings and via the forum. I used the forum for advice and support and I hope I’ve always given plenty back too. Through the forum I spotted a gap in the market and The Proof Fairy took wings … which was just as well really when, in November 2009, the magazine business had to shut – I won’t go into the reasons but I will say that the support and offers of helped I received from members of the forum at that time just blew me away. 4Ners are the most generous people I know.
So here we are now, May 2011 and I’m still very active in 4N. So how exactly has it helped me, personally and in business?
Almost right from the start I’ve been involved at the team level – I was invited to be Marketing Assistant for Faringdon within a few weeks of joining though I have to admit I was possibly the worst MA ever, and I’ve brought more people to the meetings whilst in other roles than I ever did as MA! When I rejoined in 2008 I became Ops Assistant very quickly, then GL and finally AL for Oxfordshire, which I did for 18 months. Business became so busy that I had to stand down as AL but I’m still Ops at Faringdon and will be group leader again from July onwards. I’ve never been a terribly confident person – and after the horrible months of 2008 my confidence was in pieces – but merely knowing that someone thinks I’m worthy of a team role has had an amazing effect on my self esteem. And actually being part of a team, seeing people come along to the meetings that I help organise and watching them develop and grow both as people and businesses because of something I’m part of, that has really helped me blossom as a person myself. In the last few months I’ve even started doing 4sights, standing up and talking to people for ten minutes at a time … that’s not something I ever thought I’d be able to do!
So I’ve changed completely from that nervous girl who came along in 2007, but also my business has changed completely too – and that’s also thanks to 4N. I’ve taken on board all the information in the 4sights I’ve watched and the posts I’ve read and have looked for niches where I can use my skills. I’m now doing stuff like building websites and writing that I’d always loved doing but never dreamt I would ever be paid for … and it’s thank to 4N that I’ve found the confidence to do those things professionally.
I have friends through 4N, genuine friends that I know I can call on when times are tough. I’ve got dozens of clients through 4N, either directly or indirectly, and have used plenty of suppliers too. I’ve never actually worked out the monetary ROI – how can I, when 4N gives me so much more? – but it’s more than paid for the investment.
And my personal life is completely better too. I have a lovely new man, the children are both doing well at school, we have a fabulous life together and we have new cats too … and my nan is still with us, at the age of 94!
And what have I learned through my time with 4N? So much …. I knew nothing about running a business when I first joined, and I think I’m doing a good job of it now, probably thanks to all those varied 4sights I’ve watched! I’ve learned to be open to opportunities, to not write people off just because of first impressions, to trust my instincts more. But the number one lesson is to be myself. When I first came along I tried to be this “suited and booted” hard-nosed business woman and it’s just not me at all. What a fraud I must have seemed! Now I have the confidence to be my slightly potty self and you know what? People seem to like me. And if they don’t that’s their problem, not mine.
And that’s why I #love4N!
Great blog post Ali.
I knew some of your story having observed your journey from afar, but I had not reslised the full extent of some of the challenges you’ve experienced. Respect to you for keeping on your line and manifesting the success you have today. Tamsen x
Thanks Tamsen. There have been times when I couldn’t see anything good coming of my life, and at times during 2008 I really wondered what the point of it all was, because it is so emotionally exhausting pulling yourself back from the edge of the abyss. Thankfully 4N kept me sane and my kids kept me going, they are my world however demanding/challenging they can be!
Alison, thank you for sharing, I’m loving reading these stories, makes me realise even more how much I #Love4N
Thanks for reading! There are certainly some amazing stories within the membership!
Alison, what a tremendously moving story. I’m so glad that you’ve got through such tough times. Who knows what the future brings, but with your ability to get through that lot, the support network you’ve created, and undoubted learning along the way you can be confident in yourself that you’ll be able to handle it.
Thanks Tim. Everything that’s happened to me has made me stronger and pushed my life in a new direction, and ultimately made me who I am today. I have a wonderful life and two wonderful kids, what more could I want!
Ali Neale – you were the very first person I met at 4Networking – the Area Leader when I walked in un-booked at an Oxford meeting last August. I’ve got to know you a bit over the last 8 months and my overwhelming impression has always been of a lovely, warm, gentle and talented woman. Your story is moving and inspiring. Thank you for sharing it. I’m privileged to know you and this humbled lady sends you much love xx
Wow, thanks so much Fiona. I still struggle with my own confidence issues and often feel like I’m playing at running a business and sometimes even faking being a “grown up” … and not worthy of being in the same room as so many wonderful business people. Knowing that I actually come across quite well is fab!
It doesn’t get much more authentic than this Alison. Thank you for letting us read this inspirational story. So pleased the 4N community has helped you so much. I use the word “community” because that’s what 4N is. It’s much more than just a business networking organisation.
You’re right, it is a community and that’s what I try to get across to new members – give and the community gives back. 4Networking is so much more than just business appointments and monetary ROI!
Alison hi, we have never met and i have only spoken to you a couple of times before some two years ago and briefly this morning. After the update phone call, I’ve gone on to being hugely touched and inspired by your above ‘life account’ and your experiences and challenges over the last two plus years and all in the space of the last hour, as i write this i still have the June 2009 copy of the ‘………..mag’ (it shall remain nameless)in front of me which led me to call you to discuss advertising this morning.
Thank you for being so open and sharing, it’s abundantly clear you have had the ‘mental toughness’ to see yourself through your ‘journey to date’ and life’s natural order has been seen to offer you now very clearly the opportunity to become successfully involved in an area that you are so passionate about – To your success Alison and keep sharing the above account as i am sure it will continue to inspire many many other people. Best regards Martyn
Thank you so much for your lovely comment! I don’t think anyone ever promised that life would be easy and in fact, i think I’d get bored if it didn’t throw some challenges my way now and then! So glad you enjoyed the magazine back then – I think it was the idea of letting down the readers that hurt me the most when I gave up!