I spent an inspirational day with a business-woman who built a business from scratch and sold it for £20 million. How did that great experience come about? I heard her speak at a business seminar, I bought her book and spoke to her as she signed it, asking if I could shadow her at work for a day. I arranged a suitable day with her PA and spent a day watching and learning how a highly successful business person interacts with employees and associates, organises her time and walks constantly at a very fast rate!
We lunched at her club where she developed her network of business associates (I remember one being Mr Cadbury himself!) while she worked on a new product with an associate, who proved to be very valuable in advising me. I paid for lunch and gave the business person a thank you gift of a box of handmade luxury chocolates. The final cost of book, lunch and chocolates was a fraction of the cost of attending a business seminar and far more valuable. The experience occurred organically from my initial interest in the speaker and desire to learn more from her book.
I consider this to be a good example of the noun form of network whereby a network is created through common interests and mutual respect. I like the image of a web that lights up at every point of connection, each light representing a new friendship which is of equal value to those involved. However, I find the verb form of “network” to be the antithesis of the noun, an activity I aim to avoid. “To network” involves the false creation of a business network that is purely based on what others can do for us, with the knowledge that in order for the transaction to go ahead we will have to do something in return.
I believe that a network is an organic means of developing friendships. An example of this on a social level might be two people who enjoy tennis and attend a tennis club where they meet and discover that each of them enjoys a similar sense of humour. They arrange to meet up one evening at a comedy club with friends, consequently meeting new people who share the same sense of humour and so the network continues. Developing a business network should be done using the same principles and yet so often it is built up to be a very different and scary beast.
My favourite read of the Christmas holiday was “Careers Advice for Ambitious Women” by the Financial Times columnist, Mrs Moneypenny. I heartily recommend this book, which includes a whole chapter on the value of building a network of business associates. The author states:
“The truth is, if you want to achieve your goals in life, you need to be good at what you do and good at building relationships with people who matter.”
The value of building an organic network of business “friends” is immense. But why would we consider it healthy to build this network through a Business Lonely Hearts method? Just as we build our social friends’ network through people we want to spend time with, who have similar interests or values to ourselves, we can consciously choose to build our business network. Mrs Moneypenny refers to the phrase “regenerative community” created by Lynda Gratton of The London School of Business, who recently wrote the highly acclaimed business book, The Shift.
This “collection of relationships with people who themselves introduce new people to you” is the natural means of creating a meaningful business network and one that I mean to pursue in 2013. And the great news is that women are often naturally very good at creating networks. Building up a group of friends who can help each other with childcare or women who arrange to meet up for a glass of wine and book review once a month, have already developed the skills to network effectively. Using the same antennae that we have developed to find friends that we trust and want to spend time with, we can decide who we will value as a business associate. The act of building a network not only becomes achievable but interesting and fun. The only equipment that I would recommend may be some running shoes to keep up with the ambitious members of your network.