Networking – The Who, The What, The Why, The When and The How.

 

Do you welcome the business of networking with open arms, or does even the thought of it make you cringe?

 

I’m not a fan. I never have been. Or so I thought…..

 

WHAT even is “networking”?

 

In my working life, whilst some of my colleagues saw the Christmas party as an opportunity to make themselves known to seniority, I hung back and hugged my drink and waited until everyone was inebriated before mingling.

 

At events I’ve attended over the years, I’ll happily chat away to strangers (or friends I haven’t met), but the term “networking” makes me wilt – I’ve found this is the general sentiment amongst women, whereas men seem to take it much more in their stride.

 

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve always thought my own aversion to networking was down to confidence, or lack thereof – I’d often heard that accountants were boring, so I labelled myself as boring, and decided that I didn’t have anything interesting to say, so I’d just keep quiet.

 

Life has taught me otherwise.

 

When I think of the action of networking, men in suits and gold watches springs to mind, who gracefully slip their business cards without skipping a beat during their tales of corporate boxes at rugby matches, or games of golf in the sun, or the likely impact of Turkey’s economic crisis.

 

This is at odds with me, in my floral prints, and stories of my family, my entrepreneurial journey, or more recently, farming (there used to be more topics, what can I say, motherhood has changed me!), and the proven likelihood of me slipping a business card is zero given that I got 250 printed last year and I’m still walking around with 248 in my handbag (my husband got one, as did my graphic designer friend). Business card, anyone?  Anyone?

 

I’ve found that I’m perfectly capable of networking when I do it on my own terms.  At 5ft nothing, with a round smiley face, a girly-girl, I can’t emulate the ways of the businessmen I associate with the business of networking, but I can most definitely get to know new people – whether they end up being a friend, a business connection or simply a passing ship is a different story.

 

The way in which we build networks has changed – the internet has made it easier to connect with people after the conversation has been had, and I’ve always found that everyone feels slightly awkward when they don’t know anyone (even those who look like they’re taking it in their stride!), so the best thing you can do is start talking to the person next to you, about ANYTHING.  You might be surprised with the outcome.

 

So WHY does it matter?

 

No man is an island.  

 

In the working world, I had colleagues to bounce ideas off, to compare notes with and for general company.  

 

In this new world of self-employment, I still have these needs.  

 

Last week, I met loads of like-minded people, and this week, I feel totally refreshed, with lots of ideas for my business, and a sense of excitement about the self employed community I’m now a part of.

 

In addition, whether you’re an employee or a business owner, we all need a work mentor.  Someone to help us develop, to guide us, to advise. If you don’t have that person already, you need to find it if you want to advance in your chosen career!  

 

HOW do you network?

 

There are endless ways of building a network.  

 

From actually reaching out to strangers in your chosen field on social media (not just following them, but making contact) to joining groups like Network Ireland, or BNI, or simply chatting about your business to people as you meet them in day to day life.

 

Additionally, if a friend says, “oh, you should meet such and such,” take them up on the offer!

 

With regard to actually having the conversations – just a few words of warning, 1. Do not get drunk prematurely if you’re attending an event, 2. Smiling always helps, and 3. Authenticity reigns.  

 

And one final note of caution – remember that the best conversationalists are often the best listeners.  No-one enjoys a monologue regardless of how exciting your business or job is!

 

WHO should you network with?

 

In my opinion, every person you meet is a potential connection.

 

I’ve yet to meet someone I didn’t learn something from, and I’ve made valuable connections out of complete strangers.

 

Also, my advice is that if you want to make a change in your life, hanging out with the people who are in that chosen area will help you understand what you need to do to get there. For example, if you would like to start a business, and all your friends are employees, you need to find your own business owner tribe.  As well as a fresh outlook and all that, you’ll pick up on the common issues encountered, alleviate the isolation of running a business and who knows, you might get lucky and generate some sales!

 

WHERE do you network?

Online, in person, at formal events, at casual events wherever you may be!

 

Obviously, you don’t want to be the person who is always talking shop, but if you want to progress in your career, or make a change, you always have to be aware of opportunities, noting that you can always follow up a conversation with an email or Facebook message.

 

It’s also worth pointing out that you are your own brand ambassador.  As such, you need to ensure that you put your best foot forward!

 

And finally, WHEN is the right time to network?

 

Similarly to my feeling that every person is a potential connection, every outing is a potential networking opportunity.

 

There are, of course, times when you’ll need to build a new tribe, such as when you start your own business or move geographically, and you’ll want connections that are in the same boat.  This is when formal groups like your local Chamber of Commerce will come in useful.

 

So my advice when it comes to networking is to always dress up, show up and NEVER give up!

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