Updated: Feb 6, 2020
By the time we cross the 5-0, we all have connections formal and informal for business and for pleasure which spread out into the world around us. This is our network. Networking is the use of these connections to drive ourselves forward both professionally and socially.
What follows is a master class on networking provided by one of the best networks I know.
“the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.”
Networking is something that we all do all the time, even if sometimes we don’t realise it. When used correctly it can be a very powerful tool.
At the age of fifty-five and having spent over twenty years’ in the recruitment industry I’ve learned to utilise and build highly effective professional networks. I have used these networks to promote my own services and possibly, more importantly, to seek advice, information and introduction to others whom I might work with or for.
For me, professional networking should remain very separate from social networking. That’s not to say individuals on your professional networks can’t also be social friends, but the way you communicate and interact socially should be very different from the way you communicate professionally. Your Facebook post, for instance, might be entirely unsuitable for your LinkedIn in feed. So think carefully about who you are connecting with and how that connection is being made.
On a professional level, I worked very hard to ensure I built and utilise an extensive professional network. In the good “old” days I religiously collected business cards most of which I have and still occasionally flip through. In todays digital world thangs have changed. LinkedIn has probably become the most recognised platform for building a professional network, it’s not the only platform, but is still probably the primary one for most professionals.
I have a LinkedIn network of 5000 plus and am part of 55 groups, however, I’m not overly active or indeed a regular poster on LinkedIn. Although I use it as a networking tool, I do not consider this my actual business network. I use it as a database of professional contacts, a resource from which I can draw when I want to develop my actual business network. A place where an initial contact can be made. A contact which, with appropriate attention and nurturing can be turned into a connection and ultimately part of my network. Recruiters consistently trawl LinkedIn for candidates for vacancies they are trying to fill. So if you haven't got a LinkedIn profile you get one, it's free and pretty straight forward to set up. If you have a LinkedIn profile make sure it's up to date.
Photo by Pixabay
The Personal Touch.
Maybe it's my age but I feel that too many people rely too heavily on these digital connection, emails, LinkedIn messages etc when trying to build their network. They are useful tools but they can easily be ignored, a direct phone call isn’t as easy to avoid. I still firmly believe that the most effective way to build a network is to combine modern digital connections with old fashioned in-person skills. I have found an email followed up by a phone call and then an invitation to coffee is much more powerful than an email alone in creating strong connections.
I often use this analogy when talking to people about networking, I call it “being on the radar”.
Think about a ship's radar circling the ship so it can navigate and see what’s around it. Right now the majority of people are probably a small blip on that radar of those in their network. The trick is to become a major gong on the radar, noticeable and paid attention to those with whom you have connected.
How do you build your network and how do you use it effectively?
I started building my professional network through the business connections that I met. I made it my business to be consistently talking to these connections and meeting them. I made sure I had value to add during each of these interactions, market news, snippets of information, salary comparisons. I tried to ensure that this information positioned me as an “expert” in my field. Thus, when they considered using an outside “headhunting firm” to find a recruit they would at the very least consider using me. I went from being just one more blip on their radar to a large bong that couldn't be ignored.
Leveraging Relationships: There is no point developing a network if you are not going to us it.
One of the things a lot of people fear about networking is to ask someone you know for help. Don’t be afraid to do this, the worst thing they can say is “get lost” in so many words and let’s be honest we are all slightly flattered when someone asks us to help them.
I also regularly ask individuals within my network for recommendations/introductions to anyone within the sector that they felt I should know. I used these recommendations to widen my network and expand the contact base. Just recently I met up with someone whom I’ve been connected to for almost twenty years, I had noticed that he was connected to someone I really wanted to meet but had struggled to connect to them. We set up a casual beer and I am now actively working with that individual with whom I had found it so difficult to connect.
The firm I worked with was renowned for hosting a number of “industry dinners to bring all of our connections together, quite often these had charitable themes and guest speakers from sports or other industries that were not necessarily related to the Banking world we operated in. Often my professional networking started in this more casual setting but always with a view to my professional development.
So how often should you connect with your network?
This again is very much up to the individual. There is a fine line between being seen as “pestering” to actually networking for a reason. On a social basis, we all spend time networking (some a lot more time than others). On a professional level, I always tried to touch base with key contacts at least once a month. When making contact I didn't just call to say hello, I always made sure I had something of interest to share or added value information to provide. I also developed a market “newsletter” which was sent out monthly to all my contacts, this resulted in a lot of conversations and often led to business opportunities. It also kept me very much in the minds of my network and able to demonstrate that I was up to speed on marketplace events and other relevant activities in my niche sector.
Networking is a set of skills that can developed and honed with practice. Once mastered these skills can be used to open doors that would otherwise be closed. With the advent of the digital revolution there are now many more tools to assist you with professional networking. Podcasts, newsflashes, job postings and many other types of marketing orientated messaging can be used create and strengthened your network but none of these digital methods replace good old fashion human contact. The strongest and most reliable bonds are still in my experience those that are made face to face.
Look for ways to be seen as adding value when you professionally network, don’t rely on digital connections alone, pick up a phone, go meet people, be as pro-active as you can. Remember you need to be on that Radar !!