NETWORKING

Networking is an important way of marketing yourself, or your organisation and its products or services. Getting to know the right people and having the right contacts is essential for doing good business. There seems to be truth in the old saying: ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’.

Benefits of networking

There are many benefits of networking. Here are the main ones:

  • gaining access to people who have influence;
  • gaining access to extra resources;
  • expanding your power base;
  • allowing you an opportunity to learn from others;
  • wealth creation.

Internal networking (inside your own business or organisation) and external networking (at social clubs, meetings, functions, conferences, clients’ meetings and functions, etc.) are planned events or gatherings which all have the primary goal of connecting and building lasting relationships with other people.

Network with people who …

  • have interests similar to yours—perhaps you are in the same industry—you may be able to use each other’s expertise and support each other’s roles;
  • could be willing to enter into joint ventures with you;
  • are influential in your job, industry, field of interest etc.;
  • are respected and in demand;
  • are well-connected;
  • have the time and ability, and are willing to help you;
  • could act as your mentor;
  • are knowledgeable, well-educated and well-read;
  • will back you up or support you when necessary;
  • will introduce you to their own network of contacts;
  • may have a say in your next appointment or promotion.

Internal networking

Internal networking involves getting to know the right people and letting the right people get to know you.

Networking ‘down’ and ‘sideways’ is just as important as networking ‘up’, because your peers may be promoted before you are, or they may leave the organisation and become major clients. So network with people who don’t seem to matter as well as with those who definitely do matter. The person you shun today might end up being your boss tomorrow!

Make a list of people in your organisation that you should network with and list your objectives regarding each of them. (These may change from time to time.)

Be careful not to go over your boss’s head by networking with your boss’s clients without his or her knowledge or consent.

Try to have at least two networking meetings per week and set up the appointments early. These could be a meal or a drink (which could even be at your home), a round of golf, a cup of coffee—in your office or theirs, or in a coffee shop. Be sure though to have a good reason for the meeting so that the other person feels valued. Keep their interests in mind; don’t let them feel that you are wasting their time.

The chat you have with someone at the photocopy machine, in the kitchen or while waiting for a taxi can also be networking. There are literally hundreds of ways and opportunities to network and build relationships with others—you don’t have to be senior staff to start networking. In fact, if you are a junior member of staff I strongly recommend that you start networking as soon as possible, especially if you have ambitions to improve your life by furthering your career.

Make an effort to build lasting relationships. There is no point in making only one contact with someone you hope will be a new ally. Stay in contact. You could also invite some like-minded people to get together for a networking meeting or a drink, to introduce them to each other. Write reminders in your diary.

Be honest with everyone you come into contact with. Never gossip or complain. Gossiping and complaining can seriously harm your image and your relationships.

Remember that others may want to network with you. Be available.

External networking

Visit or join organised networking groups, as well as other clubs, forums, committees and organisations, but keep in mind that this will not be effective unless you use the opportunities they afford. Through these groups you will become known to more and more people, as well as getting to know more and more people yourself. People will start referring you to others and you should do the same for them. Personal introductions and referrals are extremely valuable and highly effective.

  • Make a list of important contacts and your reasons for wanting to network with them. Do your homework. Keep a database of all your networking partners, with dates of meetings and notes about the discussions you had.
  • Always have a worthwhile objective for wanting to network.
  • You should always network with more than one person in another organisation in case your contact leaves the company.
  • Always have a small notebook and pen (or the electronic equivalent) so that you can keep track of the promises you make and things you need to remember.
  • Shake hands when introduced, or when you introduce yourself.
  • Be approachable and friendly.
  • When introducing yourself to potential networking partners, make your introduction very short but very informative. Concentrate on making a big impact quickly.
  • Establish common ground and build rapport. Be careful not to spend too much time with one person. Remember you want to meet as many people as you can in a short space of time.
  • If necessary, arrange to meet someone at another time and place, so that you can both spend more time getting to know each other and discussing business in more detail.
  • Having enough business cards with you is essential. Your business cards should be easy to read and should describe and promote your business.
  • Write notes about the people you have met on the back of their business cards as soon as possible after meeting them.
  • Don’t be afraid of approaching people you don’t know, to introduce yourself.
  • Aim high. Don’t settle for the sales person if you could network with the Sales Manager or the Sales Director, but keep in mind that the sales person may also be influential later as a manager or director.
  • Hand-pick the people on your networking list. Concentrate on a well-selected few rather than trying to get to know a crowd of arbitrary people.

Some guidelines for networking

Before any meeting, set objectives for the meeting—and then make sure that you achieve them. Keep in mind, however, that you will not always achieve the desired objectives with every meeting—there is nothing wrong with that. Not every potential networking partner will end up serving you in some way—or you them. Accept this and move on.

To make the most of networking, here are a few guidelines you should follow:

  • Make sure your appearance is good. Image is extremely important. Wear appropriate clothes that fit well and look good on you. If you are comfortable with your appearance, you will feel more confident.
  • Always have with you a small notebook and pen, and enough business cards.
  • Arrive early. You will have a better chance of meeting everyone.
  • Display the behaviour and level of competence and professionalism that you expect from a worthy networking partner.
  • Shake hands when you are introduced, or when you introduce yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people you don’t know. They may be glad that you took the first step.
  • Make an effort to remember names of individuals you meet:
    – pay attention when you hear the name;
    – repeat the name, saying something like ‘Good to meet you, Sam’;
    – observe the face; commit an outstanding detail to memory;
    – mentally associate the name with the face;
    – form a mental picture about the person’s name to help you remember it. Taste the Cook’s food; view January as a new beginning. Or make a rhyme with the name: Michael rhymes with ‘cycle’—imagine him on a bike.
  • Do not reveal too much about your organisation and don’t share information about your own personal contacts without permission.
  • Remain focused.
  • Do not drink too much. It is better to stick to non-alcoholic drinks than to risk losing the respect of the people you are with.
  • Pay your own bills. If someone invites you out and insists on paying, be willing to invite them back later on your account. It may be, however, that they are embarrassed to ask you to share the bill. You could tell them that you would prefer to pay half, but if they are still insistent, thank them gracefully and make a point of inviting them back. Remember to send an e mail of thanks when you get back to your office.
  • Try to be aware of what other people’s feelings about you might be: don’t be too pushy, or try too hard to curry favour—this may just irritate the person you are talking to, which would be counter-productive.
  • Be approachable and friendly.
  • Most important of all, be yourself.

After a meeting

After a meeting, follow up with the potentially useful people you met. If someone was interested in your work or your company, don’t wait two or three weeks to drop them a line; they may have forgotten you by then.

Be reliable, and keep all the promises you made. If you promised someone that you would call them with some information, or that you would do something for someone, make sure that you do it.

Be willing to introduce your network partners to each other—and ask them to do the same for you.

Make sure your network partnerships work for you. Concentrate on the relationships that result in good outcomes.

Be willing to reciprocate, because networking is a partnership.

Do not network with people who are involved in any illegal activity or who are potentially dangerous in any way. People think of you in relation to those you associate with, so make sure that your network contacts are upstanding members of society.

Networking can be expensive in terms of drinks, meals, fees, etc., but if it is done effectively it can be a highly valuable investment in your own and your business’ success. It does not really have to be costly though—having coffee in someone’s office is an inexpensive way to network which can be perfectly effective. As long as your intention is to build lasting, sincere relationships, it shouldn’t matter where you do your networking.

ELSABÉ MANNING