I was delighted this week to receive the Networker of the Year award from the Mid and East Lothian Chamber of Commerce.
I am passionately enthusiastic about networking even though I often find it hard to walk up to complete strangers. Too often people simply view networking as a way of selling their goods or services to the other attendees. Networking however can be much more valuable than that. It is an opportunity to meet new people, which of course is fun and rewarding for itself but it is also an opportunity to learn. By talking to people you may see new business opportunities for your own business or for those of friends and clients and you can also learn about services and products that others provide and often better ways of doing business as most people are very happy to talk about their experiences and to pass on their tips.
Because of the nature of our business, generally the people I meet at networking events are unlikely to become clients themselves however if they understand my business they are in a better position to introduce me to their contacts who may perhaps need our services.
It is unrealistic anyway to expect an immediate payoff from a brief meeting so you have to keep following up and attending meetings and groups where you meet the same people, in that way a relationship grows and it is surprising the sort of introductions that can be generated. Some organisations however send along quite junior staff to formal networking groups. This seems to me grossly discourteous to the other businesses that are attending as basically the junior staff can tell others about their services but are not in a position to reciprocate. The company itself also loses out as they do not get the advantage of building the deeper relationship that generates the better leads and indeed other attendees may form quite a negative view of that organisation as by sending along junior staff it can give the impression that the other attendees are not worthy of their senior staff’s time.
Reciprocity is very important and someone needs to take the first step. It is worth spending some time after the event going through the cards that you have collected and thinking about what people have told you. If there are any introductions or other assistance that you can offer them go ahead and offer that help. They may not be able to help you in return in the short or even long term but the more people who contribute the more opportunities that are generated to the overall pool and you do not know who they will tell about the assistance you have provided. Since setting up Bonaccord I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and support that people have shown me; even people that I did not know very well have gone out of their way to help. Generally most people are keen to help each other and networking is a great way of expanding that circle of support.
If your organisation is interested in finding ways of getting more out of networking Bonaccord offers a two hour workshop of practical tips.