Why waste time networking?

Is networking worth it? It takes up valuable time that you could spend working on your business, right? You’ve heard the phrase ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ and if you take the approach that building new contacts IS working on your business, then it’s not a waste of time! So how can you expand your network and get to know more people who could help you to develop your business or your career?

There are very few people that relish the prospect of being trapped in a conference room with 100 strangers all wielding business cards. And although that is one way of networking, there are many others. The trick is to get the balance right, and to mix up your approach in order to create and sustain mutually beneficial relationships.

Benefits of networking

  1. Expands your circle of influence – the more people you know, the more chance you have of being found when your skills are required.
  2. Having a good network makes it easier to move your career and life forward.
  3. Knowing the right people can get you to places you might not otherwise reach.
  4. Building strong bonds and connections puts you in a good place if the work environment changes for any reason, or when looking for a change of pace/direction.

What networking isn’t …

• It isn’t selling.
• It isn’t forcing your business card on people.
• It isn’t asking someone you’ve just met for a favour.

What networking IS …

• It’s extending your circle of influence.
• It’s getting to know people in a mutually beneficial way.
• It’s building relationships and bonds with other people that you have something in common with.

How to do it

  1. There are many different types of networking, both casual and informal. There are structured networking meetings, professional associations, events and conferences and online options such as LinkedIn – mix it up and make sure you use the best tool for what you want to achieve.
  2. Be clear about who you want to meet – by role, by company, by name even. It’s no good just ‘collecting’ contacts without any strategy. Make sure that you are making an effort to connect with people that meet your criteria.
  3. Understand your audience. Who do you want to network with and why? How can you break through the barriers? What challenges do they have and how can you help them?
  4. Where do the people in your network go? Which conferences? What associations do they belong to? Where do they eat or drink? Hang out in the same places (you’ve heard the corny saying “don’t scratch around with the turkeys, if you want to soar with the eagles”…).
  5. Become a ‘go-to’ person, well-known for your skills/expertise/knowledge. If you’re well known for your expertise, you will become a desirable asset.
  6. Ask for referrals – if you know somebody that’s connected to somebody you’d like to know, ask them to introduce you.

Your networking mindset

Have in mind the key interests and concerns of others. Ask questions, find out what their world is like.

Listen more than you talk and don’t push your own agenda.

Develop real relationships, actively maintain them, give as much as you take. For example, do things for others – share their article, promote their event, send them a birthday card or a thank you note.

Be present – focus on the person in front of you, not what’s going on behind them. Don’t look over their shoulder looking for the next person you want to talk to.

Build relationships with people, not positions. It takes time – intelligent, ambitious motivated people will go places, and potentially take you with them.

Develop knowledge about your industry, keep abreast of news.

Be interesting – develop a range of interests and stories. Remember that everyone has a personal life with hobbies and interests outside work. Try and find common ground.

Be clear about your skills and knowledge, and demonstrate it. What do you have or know that is useful to somebody else? Develop some collateral to support this e.g. 10 ways to cut costs, 5 things every retailer should know about the economy. Share it freely, e.g. via blogs, newsletters, social media … or offer to email it to people you meet.

Be someone that people will happily refer others to, a source of help and knowledge.

Be visible – get out there and/or be active online but do it with purpose. Have a reason for doing whichever networking activity you choose to do.

Be personable and approachable. For example, always personalise LinkedIn requests and explain why you’re asking to be connected. It could be as simple as ‘we have a lot of contacts in common’ or ‘I used to work in your office’ or even ‘I think we can help each other’.

Keep track of your network, and keep in touch. Congratulate someone when they change jobs, contact them if something prompts you to think of them, introduce people to others.

In summary
Building your network takes effort. You can’t just go out and ‘do networking’ and it’s not a one-off activity. It takes time and patience to build trusting relationships and they need nurturing. But once you’ve built a good network, you will reap the rewards.

Follow Maarten on twitter @maartenjonckers for general natter about the world of retail and links to useful and interesting articles