by Heather White

What is and is not networking?

Networking is a business and personal marketing tool and, put simply, forms part of your overall marketing mix. That’s it. There is no mystery here at all.

The most common positive terms used by people to describe networking would include mutual benefits, win-win relationships, finding lots of contacts and so on. These are fine, but if you think in clichés there’s a danger you might get caught up at a superficial level; you need to see the bigger picture, so that when you network, you will get the most from it.

Of course, there are also the negative terms, such as nepotism, very superficial, false and so on. The most important point to make here is that your definition of networking will determine how you go about doing it – or not. Your definition will propel you or simply stop you. You may find that reframing your views on networking will enhance your life to a much greater level. It is important to know what makes networking effective, when it happens, where most people go wrong and what are the real long-term benefits – for you.

What should any form of marketing do? It should produce a ‘result’ based on your outcome. Say you have just joined a new department and it is vital you get to know your colleagues, clients and suppliers. Then networking, as a tool, will help you achieve this aim. It should engage with your chosen audience and produce a result.

Therefore the first question is this: what do you want the act of networking to do for you? All this means is that networking is another route to market. Simple!

Perhaps you would prefer to use another word for networking? Please do so; in fact, I beg you that you do. If one word lights you up and fills you with motivation – that is great news. So call it making friends, finding useful contacts, building relationships, communication and interpersonal skills. What works for you?

Where networking is different from other forms of marketing is that with networking you have to show up. Other forms of marketing are often anonymous. This is why the idea of networking makes many people anxious: concerned, that is, that they may not be worth talking to or have any value beyond what they do all day, or that they may say something stupid or not be able to join in a conversation and so on.

When does networking happen?

A brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room

Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon

Read the quote from Jeff Bezos on the right. So true, and to which this writer would add ‘that is how networking happens’: it is the coffee chat, the water cooler conversation. Here’s how a conversation goes:

Person A: How’s that project going?

Person B: Not too bad, but Jim has dropped out, so we have come to a grinding halt!

Person A: Have you found a replacement yet?

Person B: No, we are struggling to find someone we can trust and who has the right skills.

Person A: I know just the right person...

Job done. Please note – people are talking about you anyway, so whether you are proactive or reactive to creating the image or brand you want – it is happening anyway. Imagine the difference proactive networking might achieve?

How effective is networking?

Remember this: networking is a tool that helps you hear about things, places you in the right place at the right time and so on, so when networking is done well/right it is a very effective tool. Here are some facts that might help you:

  • Recruitment agencies all agree that 70 per cent of roles are found through networking. Networking doesn’t guarantee you the job – that’s nepotism – but you will at least hear about a vacancy or opportunity.
  • Being well connected will give you an edge over other candidates of equal ability. Speak to any senior person and ask them the importance of connections.
  • If you are in sales, it’s worth noting that all good networkers will say that up to 90 per cent of their new business comes from word-of-mouth marketing, referrals and networking. Forget cold calling; forget expensive advertising.
Key point

As with any form of marketing, there is a skill to making this work. Some people are just naturally good at it, but most of us have to learn how to network.

Popular misconceptions and mistakes

There are some common misconceptions about networking that lead both individuals and companies astray.

  • Many junior staff think networking is only for senior executives, sales people and the gifted few.
  • Most people see attending events or playing golf as the only way to network.
  • Many companies think that if they send everyone out, this will be effective. So untrue! People do business with people first, and sending unwilling people to represent your business is a serious mistake. (See What most corporates do wrong.)
  • Most people leave networking till the last minute, when they lose a job, miss their targets and so on. This is not a good idea, as it will take at least three to six months to build relationships with your contacts.
  • Most people think networking is just another word for selling. So very, very wrong!
  • Those working in the large companies may only focus on internal networking – a big mistake. Networking should always have a mixture of internal and external activity and contacts.
  • Many people think you have to be gregarious and ‘in your face’ to network – not true.
  • Many think you have to be out every night.
  • Many think networking is brown-nosing with the bosses.
  • Many people are not convinced it works. Please go find a role model and talk to them.

Whatever your definition of networking is, is how you will do networking.  

So what do you think about networking?

Heather White