Networking. A word that can summon fear into even the most resilient of entrepreneurial hearts.
However, little else can grow your business as powerfully as networking can.
At its core, networking is the process of building relationships. Over time, these relationships will reveal interesting and worthwhile opportunities for you.
But, and it’s a serious caveat to consider, networking does not happen once and then you’re done. To network effectively, you need to commit.
Changing the perception of networking
In the past, networking has suffered from a personal branding problem.
Perhaps it was likened a little too much with tedious work events, held after hours, with attendees determined to get as many business cards into your hands in as short a time as possible.
While not wholly true, this perception has persisted for years. And has turned many people off of networking as a result.
It turns out that the law of unintended consequences applies to everything, even pandemics. One of the unexpected results that has arisen from Covid-19 is how networking has changed.
Like everything else in a work environment, networking had to move online quickly.
No more meeting up in hotel rooms or company boardrooms, chatting to strangers (one of the elements of networking that can feel overwhelming for people). Or at least for the last year and a bit.
In the interim, creating relationships using online networking tools has been the only game in town.
This, in turn, has removed some of the fear, and slightly sleazy overtones, networking has held.
And not a moment too soon.
The many unspoken benefits of networking
Jean Evans is an outspoken advocate of networking, having experienced the power of it in her own professional life.
“For many years, I built a career in the travel industry. I ran large events, worked with private and public sector stakeholders and traveled extensively myself. However, a few circumstances collided at once, and I left travel to begin a new career in the managed print services industry,” says Jean.
“Suddenly, I realised that I had not one contact I could call on in this new incarnation of mine. That’s when my mind turned fully to networking. I’m an introvert by nature and the thought of networking was slightly intimidating. But I knew enough to know that the way I was going to flourish in my new role was through getting out there and building relationships,” Jean continues.
Speaking of unexpected results again, Jean discovered a deep love for networking from a strategic and tactical point of view.
She reminds people that there are many benefits to networking, even before lead referrals come into it.
Build your own board of directors
Running a business can be a lonely experience at times. Networking provides you with introductions to people in many other fields, such as law, HR etc. These connections will come in handy for you in time.
Enhance the clarity of your offering
Over time, your business will change as your clients’ needs change. Your network will be able to help you refine your messaging as you grow. This will help you attract new clients.
Create your own community
If the lockdowns have taught us anything, it’s that we need each other. People need people, as Barbra Streisand sang to us all. One of the areas of networking that doesn’t get discussed enough is how much fun the relationships you build in your network can yield. Business relationships have the potential to become friendships.
Invest in your relationships before you need them
Kelly Hoey, networking expert and author of Build your Dream Network, is clear about what networking is not.
“It’s not schmoozing at cocktail parties.”
And what it is… “From my initial jobs as an attorney to my numerous career changes, my career is only explained by my ability to network and build relationships.”
And how do relationships thrive? Through give and take.
Provide value before asking for something. This doesn’t always have to be a referral for a referral. It could be showing up consistently, supporting on social media, helping with industry intel etc.
In her blog, “One, And Pretty Much Networking Done,” Kelly shares a story that would provide any committed networker with the shivers. Your connections, after all, are valuable and you want them treated well.
However, she also provides the simple antidotes to networking effectively.
They’re easy to implement – and will pay dividends for decades to come.