Phillip Jones – Founder of Schmooze and Two Degrees Consulting
Networking is also more than about collecting contacts; it’s a process that is a powerful way to learn and to collaborate.
At its best, it is a mutually beneficial professional relationship that is cultivated over time. Good networkers see the world in terms of connections, opportunities and what they can do to bring people together.
They know the cultivating and assisting their contacts will payoff in the long term. This process builds a profile in the form of ‘professional capital’ which brings together their expertise, reputation, the circles they move in, and the access they have to decision makers.
That capital will be an asset you can take with you in any role and can help drive your personal and professional success- the old saying is true: it’s always about who you know. The contacts and colleagues you make will over time become a valuable source of information, inspiration and access.
These contacts are doorways to a world of opportunity and information, but have to be built up with trust over time. Organisations or individuals that deploy a systematic networking strategy will receive more financial, promotional and brand awareness benefits over those who don’t.
Networking is also an invaluable means to gather market intelligence, or professional ‘gossip‘ which helps build up a picture that can be very useful for policy proposal or business case.
Social media is all fine and well, but if you are talking about creating careers and business opportunities you can’t beat the face to face. As human beings we want to connect and feel part of something, and we need that personal contact to form relationships of trust.
Networking is a process, not an event, and it doesn’t mean you are all of a sudden trying to sell something or get turned in a commodity. At its best it’s a slow-burn thing- a mutually rewarding professional relationship. Like any relationship it takes time to get to know someone, gain trust and understanding and when the times right something may come of it
People want to do business, or work with, people they like and trust- that knowledge takes time to cultivate. But you have to start that process somewhere, and that usually starts at hello. But it can be hard to talk to a complete stranger normally, but at a conference the people who turned up chose to come and want to meet new people- otherwise they wouldn’t be there!
So it’s quite ok to walk up to someone and introduce yourself. It’s not about selling something, it’s just the first step in making a connection and who knows where that will go. Sometimes you network to learn, sometimes you are seeking opportunities, and sometimes you can just have a good chat- that’s allowed! The contacts you meet, cultivate and maintain will be a real asset and create opportunities for you and them- for its always been who you know that makes all the difference to success in any endeavour.
Changing the way we see networking we can approach the process with confidence. In fact, many of us network very well all the time without realising it. Every time we recommend a good place for coffee, or recommend a plumber, or someone to wash the dog is a form of networking. The sharing of information, the giving of favours and making time for others is the essence of great networking.
To earn that relationship takes time, personal attention and cultivation- just like any good relationship. So the more you help your professional colleagues out, the more positive they see you, the more relevant you become and your professional profile rises above your peers and competitors.
But more importantly, over time those professional relationships you’ve cultivated will in turn recommend you to others (the best form of marketing there is) and when the time is right you’ll get the work, the lead, the information you were seeking.
So stay focused on the main game- the quality and depth of your relationships and not the number of business cards in your collection.