The word “networking” can be terrifying. For many of us, it elicits visions of being sent into a room full of strangers, armed with nothing more than a pack of business cards, a cheap glass of wine and a nervous smile. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By nurturing the relationships you already have with your friends and family and by making the effort to learn more about people you meet in everyday situations, you can network your way to success.
What is networking?
Networking in its purest form is a simple concept and for many people is what they are doing day-in, day-out without even realising it. Networking is about knowing and understanding the people around you, making the effort to keep in touch with them and offering help to them when you can. This might mean assisting them yourself, or putting them in touch with someone else who can support them. Help can take any form and can be as varied as offering professional advice, or helping out on the school run.
Each person knows an average of 250 people; so your network extends far beyond the people you know well, it reaches into all of their friends and contacts too. This is what makes networking so powerful. If you have maintained your network using the steps above, unleashing the power of it simply by asking for assistance, should be easy.
Why your personal network is so powerful
Those you’re closest to will usually want to go the extra mile for you. If you’re asking them to recommend a service, they’ll want to suggest something or someone who they have complete confidence in; after all, no-one wants to let down a friend or close contact. If you’re asking them to recommend you to provide a job or service to someone in their network, their personal recommendation will mean more to any recruiter or business than your CV or website can (no matter how impressive these might be).
How my network powered my business
I hadn’t realised how powerful my network was until I decided to set up my own business, Bright Sky HR. When I was getting the company off the ground I didn’t Google a single company for help. I just asked my network, or I found that people in offered to help without me even asking them to.
One of my first clients: Lucy has been one of my best friends since I was 7 years old. She is one of the best networkers I know. She’s able to strike up a conversation with anyone and is constantly putting people in touch with each other. Lucy got me one of my first jobs, working with her for an Executive search firm. I found her offering help again when I set up Bright Sky HR, as she referred a potential client to me. Her personal recommendation meant that the client didn’t mind that I didn’t have a company website or any company literature yet; he had confidence in me because of his confidence in her.
Branding: I needed a company logo and some branding. Nina is one of my life-long friends (we went to primary school and secondary school together and flat-shared after university). She is the one person I know who is the most connected in the creative industry, having become a successful designer, with her own business. When I asked her if she knew of anyone who could create my branding, she put me in touch with Laura.
Laura is a graphic designer and I actually went to school with her too but I hadn’t realised she would be able to help until Nina encouraged me to call her. I’m so pleased I did as she has done an amazing job.
Website and social media strategy: As someone who knew a minimal amount about websites and social media, my sister Holly has been fantastic. She is a social media expert and has her own website design company with Stuart. She held my hand throughout the process of promoting my company using social media and building my website for me. Holly has also connected me to one of her clients who needed an HR speaker on employee engagement; realising that it would be a useful way for me to promote Bright Sky HR, while solving her client’s need.
Professional advice: When I had a crisis of confidence about pitching my services to a prospective client, I contacted Glenn for advice, knowing that he has a Phd in coaching and had set up a leadership coaching company. Glenn is my husband’s cousin and I had only actually met him once or twice before, so I wasn’t sure how willing he would be to help. Luckily he turned out to be an enormous help, leaving me feeling much more confident after I spoke to him about possible ways of structuring the meeting.
Printing: When he’s not running marathons in his spare time, my friend Neil has his own printing business. So, I asked him if he could print my business cards and stationery. When I needed some business cards at the last minute for an event I was attending, he designed some himself, printed them the same day and had them hand delivered to me, which was a level of service I doubt I would have got if I’d have asked someone from outside my network.
Interior design: I needed an office space that was professional and welcoming (and I am hopeless at interior design). So I turned to Kat, a friend who I had helped transition from a career in recruitment to running her own interior design business. I’ve used interior designers before but Kat was in a league of her own, with incredible attention to detail and stunning ideas. Bright Sky HR now has an office that helps highlight our professionalism.
IT services: When I mentioned I was setting up Bright Sky HR to my friend Sarah, she immediately offered to recommend IT equipment and the best way of setting up a business phone line. There is so much to put in place when setting up a company that it can easily start to feel overwhelming. Sarah’s calm and confident advice, helped me put the IT in place far more quickly than I had expected to. Now that Bright Sky HR is up and running, she offers tips and advice that I might helpful whenever we meet up for dinner and a catch up.
Accountant: When I told everyone at the company I used to work for that I was leaving to set up Bright Sky HR, my colleague Tim came to see me to recommend an accountant called Joan. Tim explained that his wife had her own business and was very happy with the service that Joan provided. Joan has been a great support; with an ability to quickly cut through jargon to explain the options available to me.
Resources to help you network
Nothing beats regular face-to-face contact with friends and contacts. For when this isn’t possible, Facebook and LinkedIn are great ways of keeping in touch and maintaining a connection with your contacts. For some, meeting new people, or knowing how to get to know their contacts better can be difficult. Below is a great TEDx talk, “7 ways to make a conversation with anyone” given by Malaviya Varadan with simple but effective ways to help with this.
If you’re confident networking with your existing contacts and you want to take the next step – attending networking events to connect with complete strangers; Will Kintish is a brilliant speaker on this topic. His website is filled with free resources and details of his next public courses, or how to book him to speak at your organisation.
Power up your network
How well do you know your network? – make the time to meet up or call a friend for a chat and to learn more about them.
How well does your network know you? – it’s no good knowing everything about your friends, if you don’t share information about yourself. Let people know your strengths, interests and career aspirations, so they connect the dots and put you in touch with opportunities as they arise.
Join my network – contact the people I’ve mentioned in this blog by clicking on their name and contact me if you’d like any more information about networking, career support, or HR advice.