Not Working at Networking
By Phil Jones
Sales & Marketing Director of Brother UK
Opportunity is knocking at your door. Can you hear it? The knock is certainly loud enough. If you have the mindset of an opportunity engineer, not only will you hear the knock but you’ll be really pleased to see who’s at the door and how you can collaborate together. Not working at networking is guaranteed to decelerate your business success and opportunity creation.
If you look carefully, nearly all successful entrepreneurs have a great network of people around them. Advisors, mentors, friends, associates. In fact, look beyond entrepreneurs into large businesses and you’ll see the same thing replicated. There’s a reason – having a strong network leads to business, personal growth and enhanced reputation.
The New CEO?
My philosophy is that the CEO no longer exists in its traditional format. They are in the shadow of the COE (Chief Opportunity Engineer), the new breed of front man who exudes the value of the organisation. Steve Jobs of Apple falls to mind or Richard Branson of Virgin — see what I mean?
Business — at all levels — need to be generating opportunities through their network. At a basic level, recommend friends. At a senior level, can your organisation and my organisation work together?
Can peer to peer networking introduce a learning opportunity or new friendship? Time, Attention and Trust are the new scarce commodities in our busy world — breaking into the hearts and minds of senior executives won’t come via an e-shot. You need to be referred, introduced or have a relationship.
Give me Five
If you’re new to networking, here are five quick facts for you:
1. Networking isn’t about the right here, right now: Most networks take time to develop, like a finely spun spider’s web. Don’t push too hard or expect too much too soon. It’s why more senior execs avoid generic networking events as they get business after business flinging themselves at them, thinking that their big break is a conversation away from them. Senior executives tend to be more selective about where they go, with more emphasis on who will be there. They want connections, peer to peer conversations and longer term relationships.
2. Quality and quantity: Networking isn’t about having a thousand anonymous contacts. It’s about building a serious group of like minded solid contacts. People that will take your call.
3. Give, give, give: Ask what value you are delivering into the network. Give generously.
4. Use on-line to keep track of your network: No more million cards in boxes. Use technology to help keep your network organised. LinkedIn is a great place to start.
5. Be genuine: Authenticity, reliability and transparency matter. Understand why you’re embarking on the journey of building your network. Personal learning, new prospects, new job or new friends. Whatever your reason, be yourself.
Put your head in the Cloud
The modern day Rolodex/card box all exists in the cloud with one major difference — establishing the relationships that exist between the people you know.
On-line tools allow you to understand the relationships between people. The six degrees of separation between you and anyone else in the world. Trying to get to a new prospect, then this is the way you may find a route through to them.
The world seems to have gone full circle
Web 2.0 has breathed new life into the idea of networking, without the time investment of turning up at venues and getting home late.
A plethora of transient technologies for developers to create new social media platforms has cropped up; status updates, geo-location and aggregation to name but a few — these new platforms will continue to allow us to evaluate who we want to know and what’s going on with them. Take a look at Gist for example, or Xobni — an application that sits within your Microsoft Outlook client.
However small your business or big your job title, having a strong network around you is a pre-requisite of business success. I didn’t really figure this out properly until social media networks turned up, but in a turbo-charged world, I’ve quickly figured out that staying front of mind is everything. Technology has been one of my key facilitators (as well as getting out there).
The Age of Distraction
We’re in the age of distraction. The short attention span. We’re now consuming nine hours of content a day, compressed into a five hour window. We’re juggling devices, consuming one thing, fiddling with another it seems. Meeting people is becoming more difficult; they just don’t have the time or have a pre-formed selection criteria, particularly senior executives.
Staying “front of mind” of your network is imperative. I use Twitter and LinkedIn status updates to exchange interesting information. Links; Blog posts; Business news; mixed in with some of my movements. It’s amazing that when I see people, how up to date they are with what’s going on in my world. I enjoy sharing it and it’s led to some great spontaneous meet ups, fantastic content distribution and enjoyment, through meeting new people.
The CIA in Social Media
There’s never been a better time to investigate who and what you know. What I mean is using social media networks to investigate your networks and really get under their skin by knowing more about them - like the CIA would. Most people for example use LinkedIn to make a single connection with an individual they may (or may not) know and leave it at that — questionable whether it’s worth doing.
LinkedIn is more powerful than that. Tools I use are things like LinkedIn company search. This allows you to follow a company and see who’s arriving, who’s leaving, who’s been promoted and the members of the business that are on LinkedIn. It’s like a living breathing company CV. Perfect for dropping a personalised note to a network contact if they’ve been promoted or following a key contact if they’re moving on to a new opportunity.
Is Dunbar right?
Ever heard of Dunbar’s number? Wikipedia it. In short, British anthropologist — Robin Dunbar — established that the number of contacts that you can maintain is finite dependent on brain size. As the average, the number was around 150 people. Now, I guess this was before social media came along and changed the rules. Thousands of Twitter followers; LinkedIn contacts and Facebook friends.
However the underlying principle has always been for me about what your network is there for? What role does quantity have over quality? Different people run their networks in different ways. Quality matters.
For example, I rarely connect on LinkedIn with someone that I haven’t met in person unless there is a compelling reason for a connection. If you connect with anyone that asks, they are associations, not a network. A network is people you can call on, trusted advisors, people who will take your call. I use layers for my networks, maintaining a large number of loose contacts but focusing my time and energy on the people that matter (top 3%), that way you keep the quality and proximity.
Let’s face it. A contact only starts to become really meaningful when it goes off-line, that is you end up meeting someone in person. I’m a great believer in this and it is the route to growing the number of people you know. Connect on social media first, take a look and see if there’s a crossover, establish it, start conversing, build credibility then at some point - meet.
I maintain a wide network of contacts at a secondary and tertiary level to increase the number of primary contacts I have. To increase your exposure to opportunity, you need to be visible, connected to a wide range of people and be alert. I use social media networks primarily as follows:
Twitter — The wide pool of people that I have loose connections with. Consider this the ocean of prosperity through which you might trawl your nets. I promote my blog posts via Twitter to increase readership and ultimately reputation. By virtue of that readership, people become more interested in your wider thoughts and interact with you.
LinkedIn - A very powerful tool. Much more than I connect with you, you connect with me. I use it to follow competitors, potential employees, customers; engage with groups and keep front of mind with the people that matter.
Blog - Great for Reputation Management. I write a blog at www.philjones.biz (see: The next big thing giving commentary on business, leadership, social media and innovation amongst other things. This creates credibility, puts your thoughts out there for people to discuss/debate and gives you an opportunity to put some thought leadership out there. Blogging is hard to start and maintain, but if you keep at it, it will bring you significant rewards by increasing your reputation amongst your network.
Networking is basically about building solid human relationships. Whites of their eyes relationships with people that may assist you with opportunity — whatever that looks like for you. Human to Human (H2H) relationships still sit at the core of our world — so you also need to be out there, not just sat at a screen. Choose your events wisely though. Put as much thought into where you want to go as why.
Maintaining your network is as important as building it. Staying relevant, remembering small details, adding value and devoting time to stay in touch with people will pay dividends in the long term.
Not working at networking just isn’t an option for anyone serious about building their reputation; increasing opportunities for sales or meeting interesting people for learning experiences. If you get a knock at your metaphorical door, open the door and look for the win/win. Knock knock — who’s there?
Phil Jones is Sales & Marketing Director of printer technology company — Brother UK. He is the current Institute of Directors - North West Director of the Year. He blogs at www.philjones.biz and you can find him on Twitter @philjones40
Watch the video below featuring Jemima Gibbons of AAB Engage discussing ow social media can positively impact your business.