Networking is often something women find especially hard to do. So what’s the point? It’s all chewing the fat and having drinks with people you don’t really know – much better to get out there and be excellent at your job and deliver stuff right ? – well, perhaps not.
Unfortunately, building a successful career is as much about who you know (and who knows you) as it is about doing a good job. Before we get started let’s do away with the word networking and replace it with the art of career development or developing key relationships ….well any relationship come to that. And that’s why anyone who cares about their career should care about networking.
….it is a two-way street, your boss and others need to know about you…but more than just doing a good job.
The art of networking is nothing more than simply keeping people informed of what you do, what you are good at and how you can help them. It is a two-way street, your boss and others need to know about you…but more than just doing a good job.
It’s about the value of long term relationships, everyone has a career journey. Our careers start between the age of 16-25 and finish about 50-65. Most people spend about 80% of their careers in the same field. Therefore, you will end up knowing the same people for most of your careers. Your reputation and theirs are on the same journey. By having the mind set of developing and nurturing long term relationships with these people will help your career no end. This is where trust, reputation and brand comes from.
So we also need to network externally, not just with the people in our own companies. So what’s the difference between networking internally and networking externally? The ‘act’ in its self there is no difference. Your focus should be on what you want networking to do for you. All networking should include external networking NEVER just internal networking. The balance is wrong. You need external contacts for your career development, personal development, profile, knowledge, competitor intelligence, customer intelligence etc.
A lot of relationship building takes place at events where there are lots of people. There are many tips for working a room and you can find out how learn this dark art by visiting www.smarternetworking.co.uk. Here you can download an ebook that will give you over 300 tips to get you started. Our key tip is, the more you do it, the better you get, and whilst at first you may feel out of your comfort zone you will soon find your flow. Remember, probably 50% of the people in the room are feeling exactly the same as you are.
Another thing we are asked is why men don’t need to network. It’s not a case of them not networking, they just do it differently.
A question we both get asked a number of times is is it OK to go to events and just hand out business cards to all and sundry. In the right context, handing out your business card is absolutely the right thing to do. What you need to consider is when NOT to do it. In short never hand out your card if you haven’t established a positive/good connection between you and the other people in the group (or the person you are speaking to). Otherwise you might be seen as superficial, pushy, sales-like etc. What you MUST avoid is leaving the wrong impression with people. If you haven’t connected with them we can almost guarantee where your card and brand and reputation will end up…in the bin.
Another thing we are asked is why men don’t need to network. It’s not a case of them not networking, they just do it differently. In fact, they do it almost unconsciously. Most of their networking interactions happen at the water cooler, on the golf course, in the pub etc – they network all the time. A recent survey we conduced with a group of guys on the subject of Networking indentified that they don’t even really acknowledge Networking as something they think about as a skill. Passing recommendations, introducing contacts, recommending others for job in a man’s world just comes naturally to them and has no official label.
That aside, if you have ever seen gentlemen at Networking events, they work the room and pick up contacts almost effortlessly. Our advice is don’t try to emulate their style or any one else’s for that matter, just focus on your own – that’s what makes you different, stand out, approachable etc to your male counterparts. Our recommendation is that you don’t worry about how men do it, focus instead on how you want to do it. What would work for you? Stay focused on what you want networking to do for you and just get on with it. In the end it all comes down to the same stuff – great results and great experiences.
Networking as a skill and a means to an end is far more diverse and adaptable than most have given it credit for
People often ask if there is a case for business networking? A friend of ours recently interviewed 70 MBA students about what networking could do or be for them, here is what they said
• Open career doors.
• A better use of time.
• Help to make an informed decision.
• An ‘insurance policy’.
• An opportunity to develop personal skills.
• Extending personal resources.
• A way of gaining industry knowledge.
• A way of monitoring competitor activity.
• A way of influencing key people.
• Bring in new business.
• A means of creating a strong, virtual team.
• Help develop self-marketing skills.
• Help find new employees.
• A way of creating new ideas by listening to people.
• A way to demonstrate abilities.
• A forum where one can test out ideas and skills.
• A way of creating a higher profile for oneself.
• A forum to support colleagues and clients.
• A means of developing your business.
• A way to benchmark and exchange best practice.
• A way of testing efficiency.
• A shortcut to business or personal goals.
The same team of MBA students what might be counter-productive about networking and this is what they said. (And the point we want to make here is ‘forewarned is forearmed and could be fore planned … if you want it to be!’)
• Can take a lot of time to get started.
• Being careful about confidentiality.
• You can meet the ‘wrong’ type of contacts.
• Some events have distinct ‘in-house cliques’.
• Getting close to key people you want to meet.
• It may take a long time to see results.
• It might be difficult to justify the time to the boss.
• You may not get the results you want.
• You may lose employees.
• It is easy to lose focus at events.
• You can lose impartiality.
• Down time away from the desk!
• Effect can be difficult to measure.
• There are a number of blind alleys to go up.
All of these disadvantages can easily be turned round by clarifying your networking objectives.
So in short, ‘Networking’ as a skill and a means to an end is far more diverse and adaptable than most have given it credit for. We will conclude with a set of pro’s below for you to decide whether any of these are things are in line with what you want to achieve by Networking, if the answer is yes, then starting your Networking journey is a great way to make it happen.
□ Developing better career opportunities
□ Generating new business
□ Developing a network of alliances, partnerships and contacts
□ Getting departments talking to each and being more effective (culture change)
□ Tapping into the crossing-selling opportunities inside an organisation
□ Setting up a business and making a success out of it
□ Improving self-marketing skills
□ Sharing knowledge more easily and readily
□ Gaining market information and sharing the intelligence effectively
□ Becoming a better internal consultant
□ Attending conferences, exhibitions and forums and gaining better results
□ Setting up internal networked groups e.g. receptionists, support teams etc.
This article was written by Vanessa Vallely, Founder of leading women’s City website www.wearethecity.com and Heather White, from www.magicofnetworking.co.uk. Both are accomplished networking experts and speakers. For more information, contact [email protected] or [email protected]
Great article. Have to say some of the points made by the MBA students resonated with me. Well done Vanessa x