It might appear a bit bizarre to be writing about networking given the current Coronavirus crisis. Ironically, this could be an ideal time to hone our skills in this area, says networking expert Kingsley Aikins
The Taoiseach nailed it when he said that we must come together as a nation by staying apart.
With many of us confined to working from home or obeying the new rules of social distance, now might be an opportune time to work on the skills we are going to need when life gets back to normal. As the old Irish saying goes “When business is down that’s when you paint the shop”.
Accordingly, there is the opportunity to take this time of self-isolation to work on self-development and turn remote working into remote learning. Now that you have some time on your own think about investing in yourself and getting better at something that is always important but rarely urgent. Here are some tips and suggestions to consider over the weeks ahead.
A core truth about business is that everything is about connections. Networks are first and foremost built upon a very basic human need – enjoying people. One conversation or one introduction can change your life but they don’t happen lying in bed or sitting at your desk. They happen when you are in motion. They happen when you break your routines. They happen when you talk to people you don’t know.
So, when this crisis passes make sure that you have a networking plan and change your routine life so you increase the chance of bumping in to someone who can tell you something useful or introduce you to somebody else. Just as you need a budget plan, a finance plan, a career plan so you need a networking plan.
This won’t happen by accident but needs a thoughtful and organised approach. Also make sure to build diversity into your network. We all have a tendency to hang around with people just like ourselves but we work in companies and cities with a wide range of different sorts of people.
“Over 30% of the working population of Dublin were not born in Ireland. All the research shows that if your network does not reflect the economy you operate in and the society you live in you underperform. So look to include ‘unlikeminded people’ in your network.”
When I grew up in Dublin, neither today nor yesterday I hasten to add, the city was essentially ‘male, pale and stale’.
Now over 30% of the working population of Dublin were not born in Ireland. All the research shows that if your network does not reflect the economy you operate in and the society you live in you underperform. So look to include ‘unlikeminded people’ in your network.
Networking’s poor image
Let’s be honest – one of the great problems with Networking is the word itself and what people think of it. Most people hate the concept and feel it conjures up images of high energy, slick, obsequious, noisy, pushy people flicking out business cards at a ferocious pace at a networking event. They come across as a bit desperate and needy and most people are turned off by it.
They see it as an inelegant way of using people – insincere and manipulative. They think that networking is an unfair activity that you do when you need something like a sale or a new job. They believe that is all about getting something for oneself. They think it is all about going to an event where they know nobody and don’t want to be. They dispute that there is a real return on networking and wonder why they should bother.
They don’t realise that you can’t get anywhere in life on your own and you have to network your way to success. Great networking is all about giving, not getting ,and is based on a very simple premise that you more you give to individuals the more it comes back from the network. Think, then, how you can put your network to work for other people. You can achieve more in life by helping other people get what they want than expecting them to help you get what you want.
Audit your Network
A good starting point is to ask yourself the key question ‘Is my network good enough for where I want to be in 5 years time?’. The only way you will be able to answer that question is to audit your network. Take this opportunity of spending time at home to print off your network and divide it into four categories as follows –
- Contact – a name on your database but, for the life of you, you can’t remember who they are. You must have met them at a conference or on a flight and exchanged business cards. This is a pretty weak connection.
- Connection – if they called you, you would know who they are and if you called them you would know who they are. There is nothing happening between you but there is a degree of familiarity.
- Relationship – you know each other, you are doing something together, you like each other and you trust each other.
- Friend – I have people I work with who are friends and I have friends who are friends. My definition of this category – somebody you could call on their cell phone on a Sunday afternoon. I don’t have many in this category.
When you do this audit you will discover a number of things as follows –
- You can clean up your network and get rid of redundant entries.
- You will see where you have some real gaps in your network e.g you know nobody in law, tourism, aircraft leasing, lives in London etc.
- You had some great connections in the past and you have let them slip. Nothing untoward happened – just life got in the way and you all got busy. It is worth reconnecting with a few dormant connections on a regular basis and you can often continue on from where you left off.
Also, like you, they have progressed with their careers and have built up their own networks. There may well be some overlaps and connections in common. Now you have put some shape on your network, tidied it up, spotted gaps and identified redundant contacts to reconnect with. Prune your network and watch it grow. This is a very valuable and worthwhile exercise and will help you assess your network and indicate where you need to take action.
Networking is more important now than ever for the reasons outlined above. It is a critical soft skill that is part of your Social Capital. Time spent on developing a strong and diverse network is time well spent and will help you build a competitive advantage. Most people won’t make the effort. If you do it will put you ahead.
Kingsley Aikins is the CEO of The Networking Institute who have developed a series of online training courses in Networking, Public Speaking, Philanthropy/Fundraising and Diaspora Engagement. Check out www.thenetworkinginstitute.com for more details or contact Kingsley directly on firstname.lastname@example.org.