Networking is about establishing groups of contacts that will add value to your business and career. It is a two-way process in which you must give to receive. Building good relationships will give you a competitive edge but for many people, the thought of going out to make contacts is awkward and artificial.
SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION
Most people are connected to one another through a chain of just six acquaintances. Networking gives you access to a wealth of knowledge and expertise; it allows you to gain competitive information, build a good reputation and even get your next job. And as you progress in your career, who you know becomes increasingly and sometimes critically, important.
Networking is about building relationships, not selling. Your network should include not just customers but others in your profession or trade with whom you can share experience as well as suppliers consultants and others with influence. Do not forget about internal networks, which may be as important as external contacts in large organizations.
You can meet people anywhere. Be open to chance contacts at airports or in elevators for example; these unexpected opportunities to meet people and network can prove invaluable. Business contacts are increasingly made online through targeted research or in business networking groups, but there is still no substitute for old-fashioned, face-to-face networking.
RECORDING YOUR CONTACTS
Networking time will be wasted if you do not record and follow up your contacts. Your record can be very simple – a note of name, company, and contact details, the context of the meeting, a brief account of what was said, and a summary of what you think this person could do for you, or vice versa.
Some people find it useful to group their contacts as:
- Decision-makers: people who can award contracts
- Influencers: people whose opinions usually carry weight
- Bridges: people who can introduce you to others
- Links: those with a mutual connection to someone you want to meet
- Gatekeepers: people who stand between you and the contact you want to meet
It may be hard to imagine now, but with practice, you may well come to enjoy networking. Be methodical, and attend only the events where you need to be seen or are likely to meet the people you want to meet.