What’s the point of networking?
Three of the most common fears of people starting out in business are:
- Speaking in public
Hands up if you read that and just said ‘yes’ to yourself. Well, I can help you with two of them… by getting the best from the third one. That is the dreaded n-word – Networking.
The purpose of networking is simple: to access other people’s strengths and contacts which you don’t currently have. This helps you punch above your own individual weight and means you’re less likely to fail. That’s fear of failure covered.
I will also share some ways to network without having to say ‘Hi, my name is…’ and then dry up. Better still, there are ways of doing the whole networking thing without having to speak to a single person. At least, not until you’ve built a rapport. That’s a tick for speaking in public too.
But why network at all? From my experience, there are three main reasons people network:
- To get more work.
- To get better suppliers.
- To gain broader experience.
The traditional view of networking is that by getting yourself ‘out there’, you can attract more people to yourself and what you’re selling (or what you want people to invest in). For instance if you want to be a model, going out with a stack of headshots in your bag will help when you meet that agent who has been “looking for someone just like you”. It’s a bit like giving out fliers for your rave. Yep, you’re promoting yourself. Interestingly, when I used to work as a club promoter, we used a 20:1 ratio. So for every 20 fliers we gave out, we only expected one person to turn up. If the club had a 1000 capacity, that’s 20,000 fliers to print and give out. Ain’t nobody got time for that! What networking properly does is put you in the right place, with the right people. That way you only need to carry five fliers rather than 20,000. I will come back to fliers and networking later.
No one becomes successful by themselves. As well as people who will buy into what you’re doing, networking connects you with people who will help you achieve success more quickly and, often, more cheaply. Suppliers are literally that; people who supply what you need to get what you want done. We need these people anyway, but networking will get us around the best people. Often we think our ambitions are unique or exclusive – not entirely. The big picture definitely is all you. You have been given a specific insight, idea or vision for something which only you can bring about – with your own distinct flavour. However, some of the smaller details can be supported by someone else. For instance, although Jay-Z, Mary Mary, Bruno Mars and Jake Bug may have slightly different ways of expressing their creativity; they all need an accountant. Or a tour manager. Or a personal trainer. Or someone who does their laundry. Connecting with others in your field can get you better deals on your supporting team (so to speak).
The bad news is you can’t do everything immediately. No matter how small your dream is, there’s likely to be a lack of experience or knowledge in getting to it. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a dream; you would be doing it already. That is where the third purpose of networking comes in. It will help you bridge that gap in the short term. Think of it like this – if you wanted to learn how to drive, you would find someone who can already to teach you how. You want to be able to do what they do, but in the meantime you can use their expertise.
The good news is we already network. You’ve been doing it for years without a worry. Have you ever wanted to try something new? A new service provider for your phone or internet? A music streaming service? Going on a trip to Barcelona?
What we tend to do is ask the people in our close circle of friends and family. ‘Has anyone been to Barcelona before?’ Yes… perhaps your best friend had a good time when they went. They will recommend places to go; the cheapest or finest dining in the area and a few other things you wouldn’t have found out if you had just Googled ‘Barcelona’. What if they haven’t been to Spain before? Chances are they know someone or at least know of someone else who has been to Barcelona. The person you know will connect you with the person you don’t know, who will know something that you didn’t know.
And that’s… networking. It’s really not about business cards or elevator pitches (all of which are important and helpful). Networking is simply connecting with people who are outside your current circle who can help you get things done.
In the next couple of articles, I’ll give you a few tips on how to network without those awkward conversations, and some dos and don’ts for when you do have to network face-to-face. Stay tuned.