Networking is not new. It is, however, an increasingly cited phenomenon within business circles. Networking using the traditional face-to-face method and more particularly utilising the ever increasing and powerful internet and web-based tools is clearly on the up.
I found this definition of networking in an attempt to encapture all the inherent components of the activity: “An extended group of people with similar interests or concerns who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support.” There are some clear elements of the definition that serve to precisely illustrate the topic. Networking requires “an extended group of people” implying those outside of the normal groups of communication. It requires interaction, obviously, with the context of “similar interest or concerns” and highlights the requirement for “mutual assistance or support”.
There is another element to this particular definition that caught my eye and is worthy of development – that of “informal contact”. We recently created discussions on several Linked In business groups and asked for comments under the title “Networking, necessary evil or valuable activity?” (see a list of selected responses here) and the requirement for “informal” contact came through many comments. Generally speaking, consensus from all of our contributors seems to highlight this particular point; that networking IS a valuable activity but is not to be seen as an opportunity to sell directly. In fact, virtually all responses advocated the necessity for informal communication, the establishing and developing of relationships and stressed that networking events are not used for closing the deal. Again and again the respondents urged the opposite; that networking events are contact and communication activities that MAY be followed up with a more direct, specific sales activity.
I have to confess that I am not a natural networker but I stand before you and admit that I have misunderstood their current, basic intent. I have been to many networking events in the past and can say without fear of contradiction that I found them intrusive and at times quite desperate. Invariably they were gatherings of people touting business cards and hawking products and services. Office furniture salesmen trying to sell desks to home-based life coaches and telephony reps pushing cheaper calls to advertising agents. In addition to these hardy souls, most of the other attendees seemed to know each other already and be chatting idly, munching on the slightly curled up range of sandwiches and canapës.
How wrong could I be? It appears that networking has moved on from those sweaty days and evenings in random hotel meeting rooms. Informal contact seems to be the latter day key and so my perspective has changed significantly on this subject. I have no problem with informal meeting and chats, in fact, I genuinely enjoy them (well most of the anyway!) especially if I am not required to pay for the honour! If I could guarantee that I was not going to be sold at or that I did not have to leave the event with however many new orders scribbled on the back of my collection of business cards I would generally relish the opportunity to learn and mingle and hey, I might even meet the new partner of my dreams! (all offers considered!) because no longer, it would seem, will I be there solely to hawk or spend. Informal, simple, no pressure human contact – that’s the kind of networking that I can associate with.
Another key aspect of networking and one that is increasingly being used is that of remote tools – online groups, networks, Twitter, Facebook groups, web-based information sites and the like. You know what I mean. The inherent virtues of such tools is immediate to understand; you contact hundreds if not thousand of potential contacts for relatively little effort, they can be managed and contacted easily from home or the office and they are relatively cheap and cost effective; but there are definite down-sides. They are relatively random and can be accessed by many parties not necessarily just those targeted potential contacts or those of like mind and relevant interests. There are thousands of them appearing to offer wonderful services but that fail to actually deliver any added value. They seem free but invariably “suck you in” to a squeeze page offering the respective products and services. They require you to provide contact details that MAY be sold/taken and used by other non-relevant parties. They follow up with a multitude of SPAM-type messages and unwanted emails into your inbox without request or relevance.
They are not all bad however. They do form a simple, easy, first point of contact that can be followed up by you if required. They can provide some useful information. They can be managed (with varying degrees of time and effort) and this is where we view ourselves a being different. We know that we target like minds and interests. We charge a nominal monthly fee and no more. We offer definite benefits and discounts to subscribers month on month. We cover many aspects of business and wellbeing so that you can choose what to engage with. We only use renowned experts. We are not a flat, sales website. We are not a network that charges first and adds nominal value later. This to me is effective “internet” networking and falls clearly within the boundaries of the above definition.
Bringing these two aspects of networking seems to me to be the key to success. It is the use of an appropriate combination of remote and face-to-face activity that makes networking effective and, dare I say it, beneficial to your business; a strategy that combines the two aspects. Random internet networking is to me as painful, time consuming and ineffective as random network eventing. If that is your “bag” then all well and good and I wish you all the best but in general terms I advise being as diligent and discrete with internet networking as you are with face-to-face events and ensure that you get your (time and) money’s worth.
In fact, the face-to-face variety still holds sway with the vast majority of the people that we have spoken to. Phrases such as “people buy from people” is a recurring theme and this is where I shall be increasing my personal activity and please remember, networking is for “mutual assistance and support” – it is NOT all about you!
If you would like me or Karen to attend your own networking events then please feel free to ask. If you would like to spread the good word of this, our significantly different online “network”, then please tell your friend and colleagues. I hope to hear from you soon, on here or at your next event.