by Heather White

How to get started – do this bit first

Before we get into some of your ‘how-to questions’ we need to get clear on the reasons why you want/need to network in the first place.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Sun Tzu

If you don’t have a strong enough personal reason to network, you are unlikely to sustain your attention on this important activity. In other words, should you be in the position of being ‘told’ by your boss to go and network – or rather ‘go and sell’ – you simply won’t sustain this activity. And what makes it worse is that because you don’t want to be there, it won’t work anyway, even if you make an attempt at it. So it is vital that you create a compelling reason for yourself to get out there under your own steam.

If you have read Why you should network – the benefits, you will have made a list of reasons to get going. The next step – the point at which you will really start – is to refine those reasons.

Step 1: What are your reasons for networking?

Using the list below as a guideline, write down your reasons on a separate piece of paper. It’s best to try and keep to a maximum of four issues, but you can have more or fewer if you want.

Once you have a list of your reasons, place them in order of importance.

  • Is it for career development?
  • If yes, how urgent is it?
  • To find another job within your company?
  • To find another job with another company?
  • To go self employed/run your own business in the future?
  • To find a sponsor/mentor?
  • Is it to win or find new business or contacts, or to retain existing contacts?
  • If yes, how urgent is it?
  • To retain and or build key accounts?
  • Are they under threat yet?
  • To break into a new sector?
  • Do you need new clients and or introducers?
  • Do you want to be in a support group, such as an internal staff association and/or and external group?
  • Do you want to open internal markets?
  • Is it to position or enhance yourself as an expert/specialist?
  • Inside your organisation?
  • Within your market?
  • With your peer group?
  • Is it to set up a team of experts
  • Across your company?
  • Of leaders within their field (thought leaders)?
  • Is it to learn about
  • The UK market/culture or other cultures?
  • Specific industry issues?
  • Client issues and the language they use to describe their problems?
  • Other divisions within your organisation?
  • Is it to find
  • New friends?
  • A support network?
  • Social groups?
  • Peer groups?
  • Is it to create a personal identity within your company or market: for example, to be seen as a champion for specific markets?

Step 2: Clarify your approach

Looking at your reasons to network, you need to get clear on the following:

  • How should your networking be split between internal or external activities?
  • Should your networking focus on finding new contacts or building up existing contacts, or should it be split between the two; if so, how should you divide your time and effort?
  • How urgent is it for you to get going?
Urgency rating
1-low 10-high
To find new clients 100 per cent external focus
To find new introducers 50/50 per cent split external and internal
To increase my profile 50/50 per cent split external and internal
To learn useful stuff 100 per cent external

Writing it down this way allows me to see clearly what I want my networking to achieve and where I am going to place my energy and time. (See If only I had more time... on time issues.)

Step 3: How many contacts do you need to get the job done?

Every successful person I know has a contact base of people whom they have known for years. Some they do business with; others are specialists, and many are friends, former university contacts and introducers. So whenever you meet a very interesting person, see them as a contact for ‘life’.

But it has to be said that some contacts are short term and needed for very specific reasons at this stage of your career.

Against every reason why you want to network, take a guesstimate of how many people you need to know to achieve your aim.

So taking the example above, below is a table showing how I see it panning out.

Reason why – task How many contacts or activity
To find new clients Have 20 main clients and ask them for referrals/introductions
Know 15 potential clients and develop better relationships
To find new introducers Know 3 introducers and ask them for referrals
Need to increase introducers to 10
To raise my profile Join 3 key membership organisations to meet clients and introducers
Connect with 4 divisions within the organisation (approximately 10 key people)
  Around 60 contacts needed to achieve my aims

Step 4: Who are they, who do I know and are there gaps?

It would be fair to say that we all need between 60 and 100 people within our personal network to achieve our aims. So let’s make sure they are the right ones. Personally, the right ones for me are people I like and who also match the types of people I want to network with.

  1. Do you know the names of the people you need to develop better relationships with? If yes, for every person you need to get closer to, think on this...
  • Have you already met this person?
  • Can you arrange to meet them?
  • How would you rate your relationship?
  • Are you clear where you want to take this relationship?
  • Are you clear how they see you?
  1. If you don’t know the people you need to know by name, do you know their job titles (such as Head of Operations, HR Director or VP Wholesale)?
  2. If you want to meet people who can introduce you to their contacts, make a list of those you already know. Who make the best introducers for you? Is it, for example, solicitors, accountants, bank managers or non-executives?
  3. List the types of businesses in which you want to meet people or, if you prefer, the company names.
  4. List the membership organisations you could join.

Step 5: Review and take action

Your reasons why you should network – do they still motivate you?

  • Your priority areas – will that achieve your aims quickly?
  • How will you split your time between internal versus external networking?
  • How will you split your time between developing existing contacts versus finding new contacts?
  • Now go back to the left hand menu to see what you feel you need to know next.