Networking…what does the term mean to you? Do you consciously think about ‘building your network’? If so, is that a passive activity – remembering people you meet, a bit more active such as saving new contacts in Outlook or are you someone that focuses on attending events to meet new people, connect after the event and ultimately on building relationships and your network over time?

Perhaps just the thought of attending a networking event strikes fear into you!

A good starting point for this article is to think about what networking really is. We all have a network, even if it is mainly a personal one. People aren’t islands, we all know people. I define networking as ‘meeting people to create mutually profitable relationships’. The implication being that it’s about helping one another and requires time, as relationships aren’t built in a day and aren’t a one-off transaction.

Networking is nothing new. It’s been around a long time, after all before the days of the internet and social media people bought from who they knew, whether as consumers or businesses.

However, in recent years, with the ability to tell others about what we offer via mass media, without building in-person relationships, there’s been the opportunity to become a bit lazy about networking, particularly for those of us who have been working in larger companies.

Most small businesses certainly understand how beneficial it can be, even if they still aren’t keen on doing it. This is because they don’t have the budgets that larger companies have and they also understand that business is more easily won when it is through their network. A potential client that receives a personal recommendation from someone they know who knows you is far easier to engage and influence than meeting a potential client cold. There’s more work to do without the referral from someone they know, probably like and probably trust.

Typically, networking is less of a focus in larger companies because they have more to spend on traditional marketing and are already well known. When I started my career in the last decade, working for a corporate, networking was never really mentioned. Certainly when I work with clients in larger companies now, there is generally less recognition of its value and certainly a greater reticence to get networking.

In many companies, the networking is ‘done’ by a few people who happen to like it or for whom it is a necessary part of their job role.  In law firms, some partners attend events; others don’t, even though all have a responsibility to bring in new clients.

Let’s look at the main reasons why people in larger companies don’t make networking part of their day job:

1. Lack of time – there’s already so much to do that going to a networking lunch or to an after work drinks event just isn’t top of the list.

2. Don’t see the point – people don’t understand why they would bother to network if they don’t have a business development role. What possible benefit could it bring? After all, they can do their job without it.

3.Fear or strong dislike – the idea of walking into a room of strangers and making small talk fills some with dread. Fascinatingly, I worked with the internal legal team of a well-known management consultancy recently, a reason for some of them working in that sort of legal role was so they didn’t have to do the networking and business development that would be required in a law firm.

The first objection is an issue for everyone; we are all short of time. Although, that said, networking events happen at many different times of the day so there’s often something that can work. For those not at the top of the tree, it is important to make sure your line manager understands the benefit of networking and the commitment that you are making to it so that you don’t receive criticism or pressure to stay in the office to ‘do the real work’.

If networking seems pointless then why would someone prioritise it?

So let’s look at what benefits networking could have for someone working in a larger company even if they don’t have a business development role:

Helps you build better relationships. Seeing those you know outside of a purely work/transactional context. Building strong relationships can only really happen when we engage with others outside of a direct work situation and in different environments. If you have a stronger relationship with someone you work with, whether a colleague or client then it’ll be easier when a work issue gets tricky.

Networking may also help you attract more business for your company as you will be in someone’s mind if/when they need your company’s service.

Helps you to remain current in what you do, whether it’s going to a one day conference about your area of work or an industry body drinks event, it will help you have a perspective that isn’t all from your company. It will help you bring more to your job role and positively impact your career.

Gives you a network for the time when you want to move on. You might think now you will never want to move on from your current company but that time may come, whether by choice or due to redundancy. Having a network of people who know you and potentially know about opportunities which could be your next career move will make the job search much easier.

So if you work in a corporate, how do you start?

  1. Set some personal networking objectives that drill down on the above benefits.
  2. Research some potential events that would be worth attending (ask people you know if there are events they would recommend)
  3. Diarise a couple of events to attend in the coming weeks. If the benefits are solely personal (this is rare unless you are on the job hunt!) then it’s best to make sure they are outside of working hours. Once they are in your diary, treat them like any other accepted meeting!

If the thought of networking horrifies you then read up on key networking skills. There’s plenty on the internet, or attend one of my workshops which will help you build your confidence and skill base.

Remember, everyone is attending for the same reason and practically nobody will feel 100% comfortable in that room, you are not alone!

There is no point attending networking to tick a box, you need to have some goals and have the skills to join groups at events, build relationships and importantly follow-up after the event to continue building the relationships you started. Networking is not a one off activity! Why not give it a go?

 If you would like help with your networking skills and confidence or have a team who you would like to encourage to network internally and externally, email me to arrange a call back to find out more about how I can help.