An interesting article on NBR came to our attention this week. New-York based entrepreneur and author Sunny Bates, who is currently visiting New Zealand on several speaking engagements, made the comment that networking is the single best thing an entrepreneur can do to boost their business success.
According to Sunny, “the more explicit you can be in growing your networks, the more explicit you can be in directing your growth.
As executive and governance recruiters, we are frequently providing advice on the importance of cultivating professional networks, yet it seems to be something that people are not comfortable doing or simply don’t enjoy. The point we make however is that regardless of whether it’s intentional and planned, every day you are networking, so why not put a bit more thought into it and focus on interactions that provide you with the most value.
The most valuable type of networking isn’t handing out business cards to strangers at an event. Your most valuable contacts are the people you already know, and this should be your focus – this includes old friends and colleagues – your new referrers.
Reaching out to old connections is easier to do because you already know these people so it’s more achievable. This doesn’t have to be awkward – if you received an email from someone you knew previously, who was reaching out to say hi, you’d think this was great. When people naturally pop into your head, take the initiative and make contact.
At its most basic, networks are a source of information and this could include for example, job leads or information about an industry that can help you make better business decisions. Receiving information from diverse sources, particularly external, really improves your decision-making – an important point for aspiring leaders.
Online networks like LinkedIn are valuable but consider these as additional sources of information that supplement your offline networks – for example a phone call, face-to-face or email. Online networks are a great way to learn about what your friends/colleagues are up to, which gives you a reason to make contact.
Don’t push too soon for a face-to-face catch up like a coffee or lunch – this takes a lot more effort and might but some people off. Start by building trust and rapport – a simple phone call or email is a lot more manageable and will open the door for more interaction.
Once you have reconnected, reach out for introductions to their networks, for example, “who do you know in…?”
Don’t discount formal networking events, just be a bit more strategic about which ones you attend. Instead of industry meet and greets, think about events people are attending that have a social element, for example fundraising events. Events where there is some other purpose provide an easier vehicle to connect.
Another approach to networking is to reach out to professional connections within your business. Depending on the size of your business, there may be opportunities for social interaction and events during work, alternatively, volunteer to join meetings that you wouldn’t normally attend – you’ll start developing valuable connections across your business. Make this a weekly task.
Don’t leave your networking to chance – put a bit of structure into it and make the effort. Over time, these behaviours will start naturally happening and it will become part of who you are.
If you are an aspiring or experienced executive or director looking for assistance on how to plan your networking strategy to assist with your career pathway, get in touch with us. We’d love to chat.
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