Networking - Some people go “bring it on” but many people shrink and hope the whole concept goes away. However, networking is an important aspect of personal and professional growth if we approach it the right way.
When we view networking as a way to serve others, rather than focusing solely on ourselves, it becomes more meaningful. True networking is not based on greed but on generosity. Real networking is about finding ways to make other people more successful.
In this new episode of Making Sense of Work, Jean Balfour shares her own networking experiences and offers advice for those who may feel uncertain about networking. She highlights the benefits that can arise from this practice.
Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
Connect with Jean Balfour on LinkedIn and Instagram @Jean.balfour
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Hi everyone and welcome to making sense of Work. What comes to your mind when I mention the word networking? Some people go bring it on. But many, many people shrink and cringe and hope that the whole concept will go away. For many people, COVID gave us an excuse to stop networking and to enjoy the freedom from having to do it. However. As someone once said to me, there's only one latter difference between networking and not working, and so giving it up is not really an option. I've been with you in the past. I've been one of those people who really wanted to avoid it. So in today's podcast, I'm aiming to demystify networking and to provide you with a way to engage in it and to feel okay about doing it, maybe even to look forward to it. Before I dive into this, I wanted to let you know that we've launched our short course portfolio, starting with two courses, finding your Purpose, planning Your Career, and Building Confidence. You can find more information about both courses on our website, www.baileybalfour.com, so back to networking. When I've run workshops on networking in the past, I've asked people what their feelings were about networking, and mostly they said that if they could avoid it, they would. They would prefer to do a good job, be recognized for this, and they hoped that if they did that, even if they needed to find a new job, existing connections would help them with this. The problem is that all networks need nurturing, and our relationship to people is something living. So we need to make time for it. We need to help them grow and to be something meaningful. And even though we can not feel like it's working much for us or that we are not making any progress, the reality is that we don't often know how good our network is until we really need it. I have a view that all work gets done through and with people in one way or another. All work is relational. We have to talk to people in the team to get our jobs done. So having good relationships and networks is really a core part of working. So why is networking so important? I think it sits under three key goals. The first reason to networking and perhaps most important is for our current role. We need a network of people to help us to get a job done, to help us to solve a problem we have or to support us in finding people to join our team. Think for example, that you work in compliant. And there's a new piece of regulatory guidance comes in. You're not really sure about the implications, but you have an old colleague who's now working at the regulator and because you've stayed in touch, you can reach out to them and they are willing to help you through it because they see that you have a relationship. The second reason is for our personal growth and development. We learn a lot through and with others, and often networking events are educational. Although these don't have to be central to networking, and I'm gonna talk more about that later. We learn a lot by sharing ideas with people and learning from them about what they're doing. We have opportunities in our networks to share articles, information from training and so on, so we can learn a lot and grow a lot through our network. The third reason is often the reason people would put as number one, but for me it's number three, and this is about future proofing our career. There comes a time when we need to move roles, everybody's career. This comes about that might be an internal role or an external role, and it may be even that you've unfortunately been made redundant. And as we know, it's usually not what you know, but who you know that helps get you on with this. So having a robust network supports anything that might or might not have in the future. And if something does happen, then you are not hurrying to try and build that network when it's already there and it already exist. So I think you can see that it's really important for us to network, but how could we do it in a way that works for us? For me, this was really a struggle when I first started my business. I knew networking was important, but I felt that going to events to connect with people, to give them my business card and hope that something would come of it. Actually filled me with dread. I really didn't like it, and that was until I read Keith Fare's book, never Eat Alone, and it really changed my mind about networking. His basic premise is summed up in this quote. The currency of real networking is not greed, but generosity, real networking is about finding ways to make other people more successful. Let me read that again. Real networking is about finding ways to make other people more successful. I had such an "aha" moment with this. I realized that I could approach networking very differently. He describes how if we approach networking as a way to give and offer help to people to be of service to them, it stops at being about me and it becomes about them. And for me, this really did lead me to approaching networking as a relationship building and generosity act, which set much more nicely and well with me. We all have relationships in our lives that already work well and so networking was a way of slightly expanding that. And I say slightly, Because I've also read, and I certainly understand it for myself, that real networks are not made of huge numbers of people that you meet at networking events, but it's a small or medium sized group of people who you have a good relationship with. So our goal is to build a small and solid network of people with whom you are generous. And you don't have to do this by networking events. If these are not your thing, you don't have to go to them. You can do it by meeting people one-on-one, connecting to people personally. And I have a few practical suggestions and ways of doing this. So here's my three step plan to creating a robust network using this approach. The first is we do need to set clear networking goals. We often approach networking, I think with a, Ooh, I need to expand my network. But this means that you could meet and build relationships with everyone, simply everyone. And we can't do this. We don't have time, we don't have the energy to do this. So whilst it might sound a bit meen, We have to be careful with our time. And so deciding what we want to achieve from networking is key to really helping us to do it in a meaningful way, and that is key to future proofing our career and remaining connected. So we decide what our goal is. Is it about our future career? Is it about learning and growing? Is it about meeting new clients? Is it about something else? Is it about learning a technical skill? We need to identify our networking goal and make that really clear. The second step is actually to go back to your current network. This is the starting point that everyone misses. We often think, oh, I need to meet 500 new people. But I imagine that you already have hundreds of people in your wider network, old colleagues, family and friends, people from school in uni, people you know from existing networks or your professional networks, people. In your organization currently, if you are stuck on this, go to your LinkedIn profile and have a look at your connections. And if you don't have a LinkedIn profile, more about this soon. When you look at all the people you already know, see how many of them are connected to your goal. And maybe you could reach out to them and reconnect with them. Sometimes people will tell me, this feels a bit awkward, but actually I think people really like to touch base with people. And remember if networking is about generosity and being mutual, reconnecting with people can feel really good. It can feel like a bringing back old friendships. If you've done this, if you've looked at your current network and you think, oh, I still need to get to know some people who work in this field, or I want to move into this type of organization and I have a gap, then you need to think about how to connect with people to build your network. And that may be where you need to think about are they going to particular networking? Are there people in your existing network who could connect you with them? But you need to do that only in line with your goal and do it in a way that manages your energy. Because reaching out to new people is the hardest part of this. So when you are ready to get going and to go out and either meet existing people or to meet new people, come back to this point of how can I be generous with the possibility that I will occasionally ask for help? And this is why it's really important to nurture our networks now, even if there's no burning platform, because we need to build them up. We need to create that space to be. So go back to your list and think, is there anybody on this list who A, I'm really ready to reach out to now to get this process going? And how can I help them? Either, can I meet them for coffee, can I share a piece of information with them? How could I. Be of service to them. It may be that you've recently done a course that's connected to the roles you both do, or maybe you connected with somebody yourself recently who might be helpful to connect with them. Anything that you can do to be of help and then connect with them and you can connect just via email or you can meet for a virtual coffee or you can meet for an in-person coffee. Anything works. So if you do need to go to networking events, here are a few tips, especially if you're an introvert. Networking events can be pretty daunting, and so I would suggest going with a plan. I've heard stories from clients of mine where they've been to networking events and not spoken to anybody, and of course, it's a waste of time to do that because you are using your time to go and be there. So what I do is I plan it, and my plan always is to have. A good conversation with just one person I haven't met before. I'm a person who prefers quality of conversation over numbers of people, and my experience of doing this is that the person I'm talking to is usually really grateful because they've also come to a networking event and they also wanna be people that they've never met before. And so we've probably got the same goal, even though we are not talking. And I'm not working the room, I'm not talking to lots of people. I'm going to have a good conversation with them and I'm gonna start by being curious. I use a coaching approach, you know, what brought you here today? What is it that's that you're curious about at this event? You know, tell me a bit about your role. What makes a good day for you? Asking questions that help draw people out can be very powerful in this networking situation. If you go to the event and you're finding yourself on your own and feeling awkward, trust me, I've been there many, many times. What I suggest doing is spot a group of two or three people and go up to them and ask. Would you mind if I joined you? I have done this so many times and nobody has ever said no to me yet. And the same rule applies that usually those people already know each other. So they've come to a networking event to meet new people, but they're also not talking to new people. So by you walking up to them and introducing yourself, inviting yourself into their group, you are also doing them a. Now with events, don't feel you have to stay the whole time. I've coached some very senior people who have described plans. They have one plan in particular I remembered was A C E O who has a preference for introversion, and she would decide that she was going for an hour only. So when she arrived, she worked out where the exit was and how she was going to leave discreetly, and she went, she met one or two, maybe three new people, and then when the allotted hour came up, she quietly departed back to home. The other thing she taught me was that she said, I go to four networking events a month, and I limit them to that because I know my energy. Isn't up to more than that. And so every month she looks and she works, which of the networking events that are going to be best for her or best for her organization. So again, we can plan and choose how to do it. Now after the events, follow up with people. No need to do too much except connect on LinkedIn or send them an email and say it was really nice to meet them. And if you want to, maybe you could connect up again. You may at that point also send them a piece of information that you think they might be interested in. And this brings me on to LinkedIn. Well, if you're not on LinkedIn already, then you really are missing out on something. It is the main networking home. We know it's where recruiters are going. It's where people look people up before they meet them, after they've met them. And so it is your calling card now. So I really encourage you to think about how you are using LinkedIn, how you're keeping it up to date. You don't have to post if you don't want to. There's something like, Two or 3% of people on LinkedIn post, but you can be that, have a presence. It helps you to be seen by people who might be looking to you to add into their network. Just a final thought about all of this, and that is that networking is as much about building your network inside the organization as it is with people outside the organization. The same rules and the same effort applies. So I hope you can see that networking is an act of building relationships and being generous. And if we can think about this and keep this in mind, asking this question, how can I be of service to this person? In my experience, it eases it. It makes it an enjoyable process. So I encourage you to think this week, how can I nurture my network? What more could I be doing to be generous to the people in my network?