A few weeks ago I attended one of the best networking events I have attended. As a dedicated face to face networker that’s saying something. Business After Dark was organised by the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Melbourne. What made it so good?
They were my kind of people, people with shared interests and backgrounds to me. They were people with whom I could in the future do business or form partnerships. They were people with whom I could have stimulating conversations, share ideas and insights about what was happening in our respective professional lives and workplaces. They were people who appeared genuinely interested in me. They weren’t looking over my shoulder for someone more important.
I paid $77 to be part of this networking experience. That’s something I’ve learned about networking. You get what you pay for. I tend to only attend networking events where there is a fee of this kind because I know that the people who are there will be people who, like me, genuinely want to build their networks and will pay for the opportunity to meet and interact with new people who may impact their careers and their organisations.
I began to think afterwards about why I am so committed to networking,
both face to face and online.
I don’t see networking as being about going to networking events and making and sealing deals. It isn’t either about telling as many people as possible about myself or my business and handing out loads of business cards. It’s also not something I do once or twice and then give up on if I don’t get new clients from it. In fact, its primary objective, for me, isn’t even to directly get more clients. That may surprise many people.
Networking, for me, is first and foremost about making connections and building relationships with people – the more high quality and targeted to my work the better. It’s about staying connected to these people over the long term developing a mutually supportive relationship where I can get to know, like and trust them, and they me. I believe that what happens, as I authentically engage in doing that, is that we begin to build our personal brand, our profile and our reputation.
No amount of money can buy those three things. We have to earn them and networking is one of the most effective ways of doing that. Only then will we be ready to do business together, refer clients to one another and work on joint projects together. Networking is as much about what we can give as what we can get.
Just one way of giving is a networking tip that I constantly use and used the other night on at least six occasions. There are always people at networking events who are often there for the first time. They have come by themselves and they want to meet people but often don’t know how or don’t feel confident to join a group of people they don’t know. If I see anyone wandering around by themselves I always tap them on the arm and invite them into my group.
Building a network of people who believe what we believe and whom we nurture and support is invaluable to our professional lives, our careers and our businesses. The tangible and intangible “wealth” in such a network is invaluable.
That’s why I say: Our network is our net-worth.
These are the people who will help us grow our businesses and our careers. There is a lot of truth in the adage that it’s not what we know that is most important, but who we know.
The people in our network can open doors for us. They can
- introduce us to people we don’t know who can advance our careers,
- connect us to people who under normal circumstances would not take our calls,
- provide business opportunities we would otherwise not get access to,
- talk about us to people who may be interested in joint venture work with us,
- recommend us for those ideal jobs we didn’t even know were in the offering,
- offer professional or business advice,
- provide support through a crisis,
- advise on how to handle a difficult client interaction or business deal.
Building these types of connections and relationships require well-developed interpersonal, communication and people skills, what are now called soft skills. It is the fact that many professionals have spent much more time developing their technical skills and not paid enough attention to these soft skills that see so many anxious and fearful of networking. They therefore missing out on an exceptional opportunity to enhance their professional lives and build their professional brand and reputation.
One of the most important outcomes of being a good networker is that you begin to Stand Out from the Crowd.
YOU BUILD PLATFORM, PROFILE, POSITIONING AND REPUTATION
- You are the first person that is thought of for a new position in your company or to chair an important community board/committee.
- You are the first person considered for a position in another company – head hunted in other words.
- You are the one selected to represent the company, or a board/committee on which you sit, at an important conference.
- You are, better still, the one asked to give a key note address at a conference.
- You are asked to be a guest speaker at a function.
- You are sought after by the media for a comment because you are considered an authority on that subject.
- You are asked to act as an advisor or resource person or consultant to a specialist project.
- You are asked to go on a professional or industry committee.
- You are asked to lead an important campaign.
- You are asked to go on a deputation to Government.
- You are asked to be on the steering committee of a new initiative in your city.
- You are asked to mentor someone.
- You can make a phone call to someone important and know they will call you back!
- You have the opportunity to influence the culture, policies and direction of your own organisation, your professional association.
- You can help shape and determine the priorities of your community and, indeed, your world.
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