Business Networking is Easier Than You Think
Networking is arguably the most effective means to develop your business or career. However, in my experience, most of us fit into two camps when it comes to networking. We either avoid networking because we find it tedious or anxiety-inducing or we plug away, in pre-pandemic times attending networking after networking event… but ultimately finding it an ineffective tool to achieving our business aims. I’ve belonged to both of these camps over the years. However, after a lot of trial and error, I’ve found that networking is an incredibly powerful way to navigate your career in the direction your want it to go, and it really can be enjoyable rather than anxiety-inducing.
So why is networking so critical to our careers?
Back in 1996, Management Consultant, Harvey Coleman, conducted some research that still resonates today into the factors that contribute to individuals being promoted. The three factors he identified were:
- Performance: how good your work actually is,
- Image: the impression you create about yourself and your work, and
- Exposure: how much people really know about you and your work – your profile and visibility.
One might expect Performance to be the most important factor, but Coleman found that this only accounted for around 10% of a decision to promote an individual. Actually, by far the biggest factor is Exposure with a whopping 60%, followed by Image with 30%.
So, there is no getting away from it. If we want to progress, we simply must increase our profile and visibility through impactful and effective networking.
In addition to this, aside from the devastating impact of the Coronavirus pandemic over the last year on the way we interact with others, with technology and shifting talent and consumer bases continuously changing the business landscape, traditional networking techniques are arguably becoming obsolete. If like me, you take little pleasure in what we have traditionally perceived as ‘networking’ – entering a room full of people we don’t know, armed with business cards, hoping through all the awkward mingling there’ll be one person in the room who will actually be willing to buy from/engage/help us – this is good news!
So how do we become effective networkers in our changing world?
The answer is a plan to diversify your network.
There are lots of different methods and advice available to help us develop a networking strategy, but I really like Andrea Cadelli’s simple framework for a networking plan. Andrea suggests that to be really effective in our networking we need to diversify how and with whom we spend our networking time. She suggests apportioning our time to different types of relationship building and learning roughly as follows:
Educate (Mentees) – We should dedicate 15% of our networking time to sharing our knowledge and experience with mentees who are not as far along on their personal or professional journeys.
Mentoring isn’t just about supporting the development of someone else. Being a mentor can really hone your own leadership skills by broadening your perspective, providing new insights and enriching your thinking, especially if you mentor people who are different to you. This might mean someone of a different age, gender, background, perspective, industry or skillset. Indeed, there is much research to suggest mentoring is a vital component when trying to retain diverse talent and the benefits are mutual.
Collaborate (Peers/Colleagues) – We should dedicate 50% of our networking time to working with colleagues and peers for the purposes of sharing ideas and collaborating on projects.
By recognising the value in investing time into these every-day relationships, really focussing on collaboration, rather than basic co-operation or delegation, and by broadening the pool of people that we invite to join our project teams or to share ideas, we will dramatically increase our effective network. Don’t forget that good networking is not about ‘selling’ or self-promotion. Rather it is all about building and investing in relationships. It is only once people know us, like us and trust us that they will make a decision to work with us or really put themselves out to help. The more you put yourself out there to help others – in this instance by inviting them to collaborate and share ideas – the more you have in the reserve to draw on when you really need it and the more you will ultimately gain from your network.
Learn & Connect (Mentors) – We should dedicate 15% of our networking time to working with mentors who will help us learn and connect us to other influencers in our career.
As we’ve already suggested, mentoring is a powerful way to learn and to open doors to new opportunities. Mentors don’t just need to come from within your own organisation and they don’t have to be established through a formal networking programme. Actively seek out people from whom you can learn from other industries, sectors, backgrounds and demographics. Consulting with and learning from diverse people will broaden your horizons, increase your creativity and improve your decision-making, as well as open doors. Social media (and Zoom!) makes it easy to identify and connect with potential mentors locally and around the world. Most people are very flattered to be approached to be a mentor – whether a formal mentoring relationship is established or you meet informally, every now and again, for a chat over coffee – so don’t be afraid to ask.
Expand (Thought Leaders) – Dedicate 10% of our networking time to thought leaders who will help expand our knowledge and critical thinking skills.
Unlike mentors, you may not have a personal relationship with this part of your network and the good news is you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home to benefit! Follow thought leaders on social media (don’t forget to share and interact with their posts too), read widely – taking in books, articles and blogs from different sides of a debate, movement or trend so you don’t get stuck in an echo chamber – watch videos and listen to podcasts when and wherever suits you. One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been the hugely increased ability to attend international conferences, events and training virtually and many of these are available for free. Networking with thought leaders has never been easier.
Pay it Forward (Community) – Dedicate 10% of our networking time to volunteer efforts in our community or a local/national organisation that we support.
This isn’t something that we often consider to be networking but giving up a little of our time to support a cause that means something to us is not just rewarding and often a lot of fun too – volunteering is arguably the quickest and most powerful way to expand your network and meet, learn and be inspired by people you might otherwise never have the opportunity to meet.
In fact, if you are only going to take one step right now to diversify your network – take this one first and immediately challenge and grow your thinking and understanding. It will open doors, expand your network to include people who are different to you and enable you to develop and contribute your expertise in exciting new ways.