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Blog : 'It's not what you know it's who you know'

Blog

'It's not what you know it's who you know'


Consummate networker Jane Sunley on The Gentle Art of Networking

The benefits of networking are many, and never more so than in challenging times. You might be looking for some help, development or a sounding board, a professional mentor. Or maybe you're recruiting and want to meet potential candidates. Maybe the boot is on the other foot and you're looking to meet potential employers. You might be sharing 'war stories' and find your organisation has great synergy with another. Maybe you're looking to build a brand - for your organisation of for 'brand you', promoting what you do increasing awareness; public relations.

I met Vicky years ago at an industry event networking. She recently introduced me to Caroline. Caroline then introduced me to:

Alison - whom I met last week and it's likely we will do some work together. Alison introduced me to Heather and we found our software businesses have lots of synergy.

And

Maria - we're already doing work together. Maria mentioned I should meet Karen who'd co-incidentally been introduced via another entirely different source. We met last night and had a great meeting with about 20 action points between us. Karen invited me along to two networking events. Oh, and Maria also introduced me to Jeremy who I'm meeting in a couple of weeks.

Keeping up?

Caroline also introduced me to Emma who works in PR and is now doing some work for us. And Sheila who is now an associate for our learning business.

I could go on. You may be wondering whether I ever get any actual work done with all this frenzied networking activity. The same rules apply as to any business activity - planning, focus and discipline - and it will be manageable.

So how best to make it work for you? ROI (return on investment) is a concept very close to my heart as a business leader and also when it comes to the work we do for our clients. ROI applies to networking too and in order to achieve a return on the time and effort you put in:

R= Real: be authentic, genuine and kind. Never try to sell anyone anything - just learn about them and their business and if they ask you about yours, then tell them. Find areas of commonality. Be honest, straightforward. And care (genuinely). Be helpful, do appropriate things for the people you meet and it will serve you well.

O=Opportunities: see them and seize them. I believe that people make their own luck so make sure to notice the openings and make sure you take them. It's really important to listen and learn to think on your feet to make the connections. Follow up on meetings and always do what you say you will.

I=Interest: be interested, not just interesting. Networking is a two-way, equitable process. There are people who take networking as opportunity for a complete download whereby the end of the meeting they haven't asked a single question - this is not how it's supposed to work. Be interested. Then be interesting, have something to say – be a person people would want to know.

There are many ways of increasing your network:

Attending events: there are many organisations that exist as networking forums which make everything very easy. Though also be on the lookout for awards dinners and other industry gatherings and get yourself on the guest list. Take tickets at industry charity events, join your sector's professional body - where do the people you'd like to meet go? I joined an industry network quite few years ago and am now its President!

Engineering meetings: by this I mean making a meeting with someone you're interested in happen. Here's an opportunity to use your creativity to show you are a resourceful person worth knowing. As an example, I once overheard a magazine editor remark that since he'd moved to London he missed the Balti curries of the Midlands. I rang him the next day and offered to take him to the only Balti house in London (at the time). It was the best £17.50 I've ever spent and opened up all sorts of PR opportunities then and since.

Virtual networks: if you're reading this as a member of the learnpurple purple revolution, you're in one. Linked in, Plaxo, Facebook, My Space, Twitter... I could go on. Virtual networks are an easy and low-time way to connect with the people you want to meet. Be sure to follow the ROI rules above and act with integrity, always.

Recommendations: the world moves fast, the economy is tough and there are a lot of people out there. So people are more likely to want to connect with someone who's been recommended. The more people you recommend, the more will recommend you - it's a virtuous circle. Appropriateness is key though, you don't want to be responsible for wasting anyone's precious time. If you make good connections you'll become known as a great person to be associated with. So become a 'connector'.

Managed well, the art of networking is a fun and very worthwhile challenge. What's your favourite networking story?

I'll be speaking in London on 28th May 2009 on this subject see www.hrinhospitality.co.uk for details.

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