Updated 08 October 2019
Introduction from WFL
We need to start by trying to define Networking:
What is it actually?
How does it fit in to the whole business landscape?
Who needs it?
What works and what does not work?
How do you Network?
A business network is a type of business social network which is developed to help business people connect with other managers and entrepreneurs to further each other’s business interests by forming mutually beneficial business relationships.
Business networking is a way of leveraging your business and personal connections to help bring you regular supply of new business.
By way of context, think of the whole process of earning any sort of income as consisting of three elements – Defining your Professional Product – Being good at it – Finding the work. Networking lies at the heart of “Finding the Work”. This Technical Topic – Networking is, obviously, all about Networking – but it is vital to remember that whatever you do as an Independent needs effective networking to make it work – and you’ll come across references throughout this whole website to all various forms of Networking. Networking is a form of collaboration. Working with others is arguably more effective than working on your own – but being on your own is fact. Virtually all those who succeed can recite multiple instances of success arising out of interactions with others. Some may refer to this as luck. Most will remind you that the harder you work at networking the luckier you get!
We are delighted that Judith Perle is Working Free’s Technical Topic Partner for Networking and we have worked jointly with her in putting this material together – although much of the underlying material reflects the excellent book she wrote together with Tony Newton, entitled The Network Effect. Click on her photograph to read about her. We would say, quite simply, that it is the best ever book written about networking. The book’s strapline says it all. It really is a guide to making – and keeping – the connections that make your, our and everyone else’s world go round. (If you want to find out more about the book, scroll down to find an outline of each chapter. And if you want to know even more, do buy a copy!)
Judith Perle – Co author The Network Effect
Judith brings to her training work a wealth of experience in business communication gained over a career in publishing, branding, marketing and new business development.
Judith says, by way of introduction:-
My ‘networking philosophy’ is based on three firm beliefs:
- A smattering of theory provides a solid foundation for what we actually do. So I always give workshop participants a working knowledge of key concepts in current network studies.
- Research shows that everyone can become a confident networker – all it takes is the right approach and plenty of practice. So I emphasize ‘learning by doing’.
- Networking for long-term benefit involves more than social media, so my unashamed focus is on the actual process of meeting people and building relationships.
More info from [email protected] This website offers many opportunities to email us – through the TTC facility. Additionally, you can always email us directly.
We can’t reproduce the entire book here but the following chapter headings give you an idea of its scope and range. The real value in thinking about the chapter headings lies in working out what lies behind the heading. And then chasing answers. So we would encourage you to buy your own copy.
Introduction to the book: Turning ‘Order Qualifiers’ Into ‘Order Winners’
- Why Develop a Networking Culture?
Why we should stop paying lip service to the importance of networking, and get out and about.
- It’s a Small World…So What?
Using small world theory and the strength of weak ties to unravel the networking process and connect with the right people.
- Hunting and Gathering, Giving and Getting
Direct your search, but don’t turn your back on Lady Luck – and make certain you know the rules of the game.
- Breaking the Ice
Getting the best from networking events, conferences and meetings.
- A Question of Rapport
Getting along with people is fundamental to any networking strategy.
- And Who Are You?
Build relationships by being interested – and interesting!
- Hello, I Must Be Going
How you end an encounter can dictate how people remember you; business cards can do the same.
- What’s In a Name?
How to remember names and encourage others to remember ours.
- But I Don’t Know Anyone!
You’ll be surprised just how many people you do know and how many places there are to meet new people.
- Back at the Ranch
Follow up, follow up, follow up.
- I Saw This and Thought Of You
Turning one-night stands into long-term relationships demands more than a full address book.
- Social Networking, Your Network and Your Reputation
It’s what people say about you when you’re not there that really counts.
‘Networking’ is one of those terms that gets bandied about rather loosely. Conference brochures, for example, routinely reassure potential attendees that there will be ‘ample time for networking’. Yet all too many of us are unsure why networking is so important, and what it really involves.
To take first things first, if there’s one thing that academics and business people agree on, it is that building a professional network matters. Research by Rob Cross of the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce shows that “what really distinguishes high performers from the rest of the pack is their ability to maintain… personal networks”. In similar vein, Professor Herminia Ibarra (an expert on leadership and professional development at London Business School) and Mark Hunter say in the prestigious Harvard Business Review: “Aspiring leaders must learn to build and use strategic networks… They must accept that networking is one of the most important requirements of their…roles.”
Turning to entrepreneurship, Eleanor Shaw of the University of Strathclyde has demonstrated that “Entrepreneurs with good networks attract more capital and are more likely to be successful than those with limited networks.” And a study conducted by AMBA concluded that on average around 60% of new business comes from personal referrals and recommendations. Last but not least, survey after survey has shown that interim managers find more assignments directly through their own personal networks than via specialist agencies.
Organisations, academics and researchers aren’t known for easily reaching consensus. Yet top institutions around the world agree on at least one thing: building a strong network is one of the keys to success in business. This unusual level of agreement, begs the question: Why? Put simply, the answer might run something like this: ‘Networking is so important because it can help us in almost every single aspect of our professional (and most probably personal) lives.’
The background to all this is a fast-moving working world that is getting increasingly more complex and competitive – and particularly in the marketing and selling of professional services. There is more supply than demand. This trend will continue – driven by tech interacting with legislation – accelerating disintermediation and destroying many current job roles but making space for new roles. These current characteristics apply equally to independent professionals – and particularly senior professionals coming off the permanent payroll into Independent working.
People buy from people. You need to ask what professional and personal attributes do you need to be good at networking? It is all about building relationships. It is a culture. You’ll know when you are on the right lines when you start to make visible wins and you realise that this is how you ought to have been behaving – and thinking – from your very first day at work. You’ll also notice the virtually all consistently successful people act and behave like this. Developing a successful network does not have to involve selling, being pushy, abusing trusted relationships or making overblown claims about yourself. If you are looking to fix a problem or fill a position, you are more likely to look for and find better people and better solutions through people who you know and trust.
Some will be reminded of the quaint mantra of one of Working Free’s Partners, the Devonshire House Network:- “Everyone who comes to Devonshire House is open for business – but being spotted selling will be seen as bad manners!” However, it’s one thing knowing, in your head, that you ought to network if you want a fulfilled and successful professional career or are embarking on a new venture. But sometimes it’s easier to be motivated when you hear a real life story, so here’s just one of the many anecdotes we have collected over the years.
Case Study: A Visit To The Opera Pays Off
Kay, an MBA student at London Business School, told me the following story:
“I used to work in London for two real estate investment management firms in business development and marketing. A couple of years ago, I was at an industry conference in Vienna. At the time I was working for a start-up firm and got chatting to Anne, who was a Director of Business Development for a large global firm – in other words, right at the other end of the spectrum of my industry.”
“We discovered that, as well as having a lot in common professionally, we were both interested in art and culture, and were keen to see more of the city of Vienna. Anne told me that she planned to spend the weekend after the conference exploring; I recommended the production of Carmen that I had just seen at the Opera House, and told her about some easy ways to get tickets. We also exchanged ideas about other things to see. We ran into each other again the next day, both having left the conference early to pop into the nearby Kandinsky exhibition.”
“Nearly eight months later I was at a cocktail party in London hosted by the same association that had run the conference in Vienna. The start-up I was working for was failing and the office was being shut; I was to be working there for just one more week. My company (and its imminent demise) was the topic of many conversations, and I was speaking to a lot of people about what was going on. As the evening was coming to an end, I spotted Anne and asked her if she had enjoyed her weekend in Vienna after the conference. She immediately thanked me for my advice about the Opera House and we got to talking. When she learned that my employer had fallen apart, she invited me to lunch the following week…and offered me a job working for her several weeks later.”
This case study provides a nice example of how valuable chance encounters can be. I’m not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that each and every conversation you have will bring huge benefits in its wake – but I am saying that if you aren’t willing (or able) to have those conversations, you’re going to miss out on lots of opportunities (and, probably, lots of fun too).
Look at how Kay decided to fully engage Anne in conversation when they first met. She could have made polite small talk about real estate and left it at that, as so many people would do. Kay and Anne didn’t become best friends, but they listened and learned a lot about each other through just one conversation and another chance encounter.
And finally see where that casual conversation led. Not immediately but later, when Kay really needed help. Just luck, chance, providence…? Or keeping one’s eyes and ears open, engaged and receptive to the power of your network?
So, networking is important. But how many of us have actually had any guidance about how to do it or what it means? It’s assumed that by the time we are climbing the career ladder, we have all the communication skills we need, and that these skills include the ability to network effectively. Yet anybody involved in management training knows that isn’t quite the case.
I spend my time running workshops and masterclasses in professional networking skills. Every time I run a workshop (whether for entrepreneurs, interims, a company, a professional organisation, a business school or a university), one or two people stand out from the crowd. What is it that makes those people memorable? It has nothing to do with their professional ability (about which I know nothing) and everything to do with the way in which they engage with the people around them. But don’t mistake that for meaning simply that these people are somehow just the ‘life and soul of the party’ types: that’s not necessarily what makes a good networker. Some years back, PWC did some research into what made people good ‘rainmakers’ (generators of new business), and they discovered that wasn’t a question of personality type. What they did find were certain shared attributes: their best rainmakers were optimistic, systematic, tenacious, good problem solvers and (most interestingly) good listeners… all so-called ‘soft’ skills that people like me spend their working lives trying to impart to people whose mindset is often that the ‘hard’ skills are all they need to get their place in the sun.
In the late 1990s, I signed up for the Sloan Masters Fellowship programme at London Business School. One of the core modules was entitled ‘Operations Management’, the key lesson of which remains with me and which I’d like to share with you. In any new business ‘pitch’ whether formal or informal, there are ‘order qualifiers’ and ‘order winners’. An ‘order qualifier’ is a feature of your product or service of which you might justly be very proud, but which ultimately only gets you as far as the beauty parade. The ‘order winner’ is that unique attribute which gets you the business, the job, the funding or the promotion.
The fun starts when individuals and businesses mistake their ‘order qualifiers’ for ‘order winners’. Think about it: every accountancy firm pitching for new business has near identical ‘hard skills’ in their ability to conduct an audit, for example. Every firm of solicitors needs to be able to decipher what is actually meant by ‘the party of the first part’ and ‘the party of the third part’. Every job-seeker must have the necessary qualifications to do the job. And every product or service must, at the very least, ‘do what it says on the tin’.
So what is the ‘order winner’ in these cases? The answer is that it’s often the so-called ‘soft skills’ – the interpersonal skills – which are supremely important in differentiating one candidate, proposal or service from another. Professional networking skills are paramount among those soft skills. And we know from experience that they can be taught – and learnt. Here’s what Ibarra and Hunter had to say in Harvard Business Review: “We have seen over and over again that people who work at networking can learn not only how to do it well but also how to enjoy it. And they tend to be more successful in their careers.”
One of the other lessons I took away from my time at business school is that skills which are intuitive and second nature to one person can be a real challenge to another by reason of personality, experience or culture. Even in a class full of supposed high-achievers, I was surprised at how many networking opportunities were being missed by classmates just because they failed to follow some basic, common sense and easy to apply rules. In the years since, I have been repeatedly amazed at how bad most people are at making easy connections, or indeed just ‘making the call’.
What can concern many senior executives moving from the permanent payroll onto an independent working lifestyle is that they spent many years listening to salesman and saleswomen of various types and at various levels. The prospect of finding themselves in this position can be horrifying and possibly terminally off-putting. Forget it!
Most of us know who we want to meet and why, we may know where and when we want to meet them, and what we might gain by doing so. Where so many people fall down is on the how. And here lies the second problem. Networking is also viewed by some as being first cousin to social climbing, or a close relative of the smooth ‘worker of rooms’, intent on using and manipulating people to their own advantage. They fail to see the crucial point of networking – that it is as much about helping others as helping yourself, that you should only network if you see it as a long-term process. Nowhere is that old (but true) cliché more applicable: What goes around, comes around.
Ultimately, becoming a better networker involves, first and foremost, a change of attitude. Away from ‘What can I get from you?’ and towards ‘How could I help you?’ Away from promoting yourself, and towards a genuine interest in other people. It’s amazing what a shift in mindset can achieve. Here’s a case study: Neil, a budding entrepreneur who came to a workshop we ran at Leeds University, got in touch a day or two later.
“I went to an evening ‘do’ straight after the training session. It went well. In the three hours after we finished:
- I met some undergraduates in sports science who want to set up an outdoor activity centre.
- I met a guy from Leeds Metropolitan University who runs lots of start-up business support functions and workshops. He has contacts galore, I’m sure.
- I met the new guy at Leeds Uni who is supporting business start-ups in conjunction with three other regional universities – good for intellectual property advice.
- I found out about an incubator cell – 18 free desks for one year for new businesses – sponsored by the Uni.
- I found out about small-scale VC funding up to £250k through local enterprise funding.
- I learned that I can submit a business plan I’m writing to a competition for £10k. Win or lose I get support to implement it.
- I met and swapped business cards and email addresses with the MD of an incubator facility. I’ve followed up today – gave him details of the guy who is designing my company logo.
- I met a young guy who is trying to get into sports journalism. I know a guy who writes footy reports for the Guardian newspaper – his dad runs a manufacturing company up the road from where my old factory premises were in Manchester. Seems like a fair contact swap. I will meet him to sort it out.
“So, as you can see it was a successful evening… I’ll continue to put the theory into practice and see what happens. As they say, the ‘big man helps those who help themselves’.”
I chose this particular case study for three reasons. Firstly, it demonstrates anecdotally how effective just a one-day workshop can be in opening people’s eyes and changing their behaviour patterns. Secondly, I was impressed by the way Neil grasped the nettle with both hands, talked to lots of different people, and didn’t discount any of the contacts he made. Last but not least, Neil gave as well as took.
So what exactly is this ‘networking’ thing, and what are the rules of the game?
A good networker builds relationships with a wide variety of different people. Some become close friends, others remain more pragmatic professional contacts – and still others never get beyond the ‘acquaintanceship’ stage. Crucially, networking isn’t about just ‘working a room’ so you can give your business card to anyone who will take it. In fact, a lot of networking takes place far away from networking events – at the water cooler, between parents picking up their offspring at the school gates, at conferences…. Kay and Anne weren’t close friends, but they did manage to build up a good level of rapport in their encounters.
Networking should be about giving rather than getting. We all know people who only contact us when they want something… and who only value us in terms of what we can (or might) give them. And we all also know how (un)popular characters like that are. So don’t fall into the trap of trying to manipulate people to get what you want out of them. When Kay and Anne exchanged information, neither was thinking about a job in the future or hiring staff. Yet in the end both benefited – Kay by getting a job when she needed one, and Anne by finding a new member of the team without expensive advertisements or time-consuming interviews.
There’s also a world of difference between networking and selling: networking is about opening doors, keeping them open and seeing where they lead. Selling is about ‘closing’ a deal. There are similarities in the techniques involved, and effective networking can undoubtedly help you make sales and win business, but if you’re seen to be selling, people are likely to slam that open door in your face… hard.
So the very best networkers keep an open mind – about who they’re talking to, why they’re talking to them, and what they might hope to gain. Becoming a better networker involves, first and foremost, a change of attitude.
To do this effectively, though, your social skills may need a bit of polishing. The challenges that each of us face in the skills arena, will be different. Some people stumble when starting conversations; others run out of things to say, or find it hard to develop rapport with the person they’re talking to. Some people are fine in face-to-face situations, but find the telephone a real challenge, whether they are making initial calls to set up a meeting, or following up on a past meeting. And talking about following up, almost everybody could do with a reminder about the importance of making contact quickly and effectively after an initial meeting or phone call. After all, relationships aren’t created overnight. They take time to develop, and trust needs to be built up brick by brick.
None of this is rocket science. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that all of you already know what to do. I sometimes tell workshop participants that networking is basically what our mums taught us: be nice to people and they’ll probably be nice to you.
In short, networking is about people. Talking to people, helping people, getting involved in their lives ….and, ultimately, also reaping the rewards that those relationships can bring.
In his fascinating book, The Luck Factor, Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire explored the psychological differences between people who think of themselves as unusually lucky (or unlucky). One of the four key principles to creating good luck is skill at creating, noticing and acting upon chance opportunities. Lucky people do this in various ways – by networking, adopting a relaxed attitude to life and by being open to new experiences.
Networking alone won’t bring success or change your life. But active networking will certainly go a long way
- Academic research positively correlates the networking activity of SMEs with business growth, and the ability to attract capital.
- When it comes to the job search, official ONS data shows that 26% of respondents got their job through hearing from someone who worked there.
- Communication skills (aka networking skills) top the list of qualities sought by corporate recruiters.
- Good ideas don’t really arrive ‘out of the blue.’ Research by Ronald Burt of the University of Chicago shows that people who network actively have disproportionately more good ideas. So networking is key to innovation.
- It’s an old but nevertheless true adage that it’s cheaper to retain a satisfied client than to recruit a new one. Networking keeps channels of communication with key customers open so that potential problems can be spotted and dealt with before they turn into crises.
- The old idea of the leader as macho-man is long gone. Instead, studies describe successful leaders as people who have the “ability to figure out where to go … to enlist the people and groups” they need. In other words, you can only lead with a little help from your friends… and colleagues, customers and experts.
There’s no magic bullet which will guarantee that you reach networking heaven, but there are a few golden rules to set you on the right track. Here are my top ten.
- Make time to network
Don’t network only when you’re in a fix – make networking a habit so that you build a rich and diverse resource that you can call on when in need. Allocate time in your diary to building your network and, if it helps, set yourself targets.
- Understand that giving is better (and often more effective) than getting
One sided relationships where they give and you take eventually turn sour. Flip the coin and find things you can give – information, an introduction, a quick phone call – things that are easy (for you) yet valuable (to them).
- Connect people
Make a point of introducing people in your network who have shared interests. The more you are known as someone who knows interesting people, the more people will want to be linked to you, and the more effective and wide-ranging your network will become.
- Value your acquaintances and friends
Although friends are vital for our well-being, they often don’t have access to new information. So don’t disregard ‘mere’ acquaintances who can often point out opportunities that you hadn’t heard about on the grapevine.
- Appreciate the iceberg
Most people’s networks are largely invisible to all but their closest friends. Remove your blinkers and connect with lots of different people. You can never, ever predict who knows who, and who will be able to introduce you to someone who could move your career in a new direction.
- Build rapport
If someone doesn’t warm to you, they’re unlikely to help, even when asked. So build rapport with your contacts – by listening to what they have to say, seeking common ground that can connect you, and helping out where possible.
- Nurture your network
Even the most superficial relationships are based on trust, and that takes time to build. So make an effort to stay in touch, and gradually strengthen the tie.
- Be organised and set yourself targets
None of us have perfect memories, so make a note of the personal information that you won’t be able to retrieve any other way: when and where you met, what you talked about, their likes and dislikes.
- Raise your profile
Blow your own trumpet, gently! Attend professional meetings, lectures and conferences, and get involved where you can. That way, your name will ring a bell, and people are more likely to think of you when an opportunity arises.
- Practice, practice, practice The only way to get better at networking, and to reap the benefits, is to get out and do it. © Judith Perle, Management Advantage, September 2019
For every efficient and successful front office, there has to be an efficient and successful back office. You need to equip yourself with something reflecting a best value-for-money CRM system. It does not need to be complicated – but enough to record your networking activities and enable to you develop relationships.
Meeting people is a waste of effort if you ‘ve not been able to discover their contact details and don’t know who they are! You also need to know what they do and reasons – actual and potential – for keeping in touch. The best reasons will be around what is of interest to them. At this stage, their reasons for keeping in touch with you are irrelevant.
But remember – the aim is to get in front of people – not hide away from the world behind a screen.
If you would like to read ‘The Network Effect’ for yourself, you can order copies from Amazon or through your local book shop.
If you have a problem doing so, email [email protected] to buy direct from the publishers.
The Working Free Ten Times Table – Personal Monthly Networking Programme
- Make ten new contacts each month – At the beginning of the month, you won’t have any names in this Section – as you’ve not been anywhere! By the end of the month, the plan is to be able to write up “Visit Reports” on your CRM System for all your contacts during that month. These should ideally be face-to-face contacts wherever possible.
- Keep in touch with ten contacts each month – Choose these names at the beginning of the month, and think about the best way of making contact. In an ideal world, it should be about them (rather than you), and should be useful and/or helpful to them.
You need to be constantly alert in creating/ collecting subject matter that will enable you to make a valuable contact with your list – or relevant parts of your list.
Monthly – Print it off at the beginning of the month – carry it around with you – complete it continuously – check it daily and review what you’ve done at the end of the month. Then update your CRM system. And, finally, carry forward outstanding items to the next month …… and the system goes on from month to month!
All this might seem onerous. But, remember, it is only you who can do this. No-one else will do it for you – but can help immeasurably in their guidance and support. (If Ten seems too much, try Five. If Five seems too much, don’t do any! And see what doesn’t happen!)
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