Networking is an interesting thing. I’m not sure what images come to your mind when the word is mentioned but I often think of two very different scenarios.
Firstly at a conference or business event where people are straining to say their 30second pitch to as many people as possible. Or secondly, a group of people in a small room with one person presiding over the meeting and ‘forcing’ everyone to pass on one of their contacts to another member.
The truth is, networking is both of these things and none of them. What do I mean by that? Both of these scenarios I have been in and technically they are networking, but they can be very negative experiences for some people who aren’t as extrovert and confident as others.
I want to tell you that networking is not about either of those scenarios. Networking is simply conversing with people. Getting to know people. Talking to people. Listening to people. Being curious about others.
I recently gave a talk at Westminster University to some of the business students encouraging them to think about their networks and to get out there and constantly meet new people to add to their network.
Here are some of the tips I gave them as I encouraged them to realise they already had a network and to think more about who was in it, why, and what skills and values they had.
1. How many people do you know?
Its an interesting question. Go on. Try and count up how many people you actually know. Its not easy as you have the question of ‘what does it mean to actually know someone?’ For sake of argument I’d simply say its someone you meet or see regularly. This could be regularly once a year -like a doctor, dentist or it could be someone you see every day.
Some examples are your immediate and extended family, friends, work colleagues, clients and suppliers, fellow members of any church or religious groups you attend, people at clubs or organisations such as the gym, friends of friends, possibly those ‘met’ on Twitter or Facebook, or your local shop assistant.
2. What do each of those people do?
Aside from the obvious ones you already know from their trade, builders who may have worked on your house, your landlord, GP’s, think about what the other people do. What are their interests? What are their values? What are their goals?
The thing is we can often meet people regularly but not really make the time to take an interest in them. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. You never know if that person you meet in the gym could be your next boss or business partner; Could refer you to your next job -one you’re more passionate about. You could be just the person they need at that time. They could become a close friend. You just never know, and you won’t know if you don’t take an interest in them.
A good personal example of this is my partner in crime at Creatives Hub, Claire Meredith. I met her through a networking event. We got chatting, found we had similar interests and goals and connected. She has been instrumental in helping to set up Creatives Hub and co-hosts the podcast ‘Hatch – Let’s get cracking!’ with me.
3. How do you generally meet new people?
(You are meeting new people aren’t you?) Its important to continue to expand your network. When we meet new people it can help us evaluate more of who we are. There are people we like. People we don’t like and don’t get on with so well. Why? What is it about certain people we just don’t gel with?
I for example struggle with people who are too much ‘hard sellers’. I guess a lot of people do. When I’ve been at networking meetings or just chatting to people, if someone has their pitch and is ‘darned’ well going to use it’ and they’re not remotely interested in me as a person, then it makes me think I’m not remotely interested in them. It has to be a VERY good product or service that I need right NOW, for me to take any interest at all.
If that’s the case, I use the line ‘Its been great chatting with you, now I’m going to continue mingling’. Obviously a bit more difficult to use outside of networking meetings! -but you get the idea.
So you know who your network is. You know what each member does and what their interests are. You are getting out and meeting new people. This is a good start to understanding and growing your network and if I was to sum it up in one sentence, it would be ‘Learn to be curious about others’. If you can foster a desire to want to know more about people this will help enormously.
Resourcing your network
Its not easy if you’re shy or introverted, but there are many events and resources that can help with that. I will mention two here and If you know any more, please post them in the comments.
Drinks and Links
Drinks and Link is what I call a low-level networking event. There is no formal introduction. There are no ‘expert’ talks. You simply turn up at the Wine Tun bar near St. Paul’s Underground Station in London, buy a drink and get chatting. People come for all different reasons. When I started going my main reason was simply to meet new people. If I got business out of it then great but that wasn’t my primary concern. I was in a phase where I wasn’t meeting many new people, so it was a perfect arena for me to do that.
People do naturally come to do business and look for potential collaborators on projects. There are a wide variety of people that turn up, from students to investment bankers, web designers to lawyers, hypnotherapists to sports coaches. You meet them all. Its this diversity as well that I enjoy.
Drinks and Links is free and held on the first Tuesday of the month. Find out more from their website.
Working a Net – Free eBook
If you want more tips on networking, our own Claire Meredith has written a brilliant little e-book – called ‘Working a Net – the little book of networking for the geeky, the shy and the occasionally dippy‘. I encourage you to download it now. Its really insightful and has some wonderfully encouraging tips on how to improve your networking skills. Download here.
Over to you
So what’s been your experience of networking? What is it that strikes fear into you about it?