Myths of networking – for exploding!
Our intrepid Treasurer, Kate Kelly, recently represented the Chamber at the very successful ISSBA/ABE Virtual Business Summit and gave a talk on networking.
Kate is an experienced networker and has built her business on word-of-mouth marketing via networking. There are a lot of myths about networking. What you should do, why you should do it, what you can expect. But what parts of these myths are true and what false? And will networking work for you?
To find the answer you can either watch the replay of Kate’s presentation at https://summit.issba.co.uk/talks/exploding-some-networking-myths or read the transcript below.
“Hi – my name is Kate. I am a serial – and serious – networker. I have built my business on word of mouth recommendations via networking.
I have also been on the receiving end of many presentations explaining what networking is about, & how to do it properly.
But in my experience, some of the statements made need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Or as I put it in my summary: real life does not always fit the PowerPoint.
What is networking?
So, to start – what do I mean when I talk about networking?
Networking is when business-people meet in order to meet!
It isn’t a project meeting or attending a talk – although the coffee and chat session before the talk begins may well be networking. Some networking follows a highly structured format, some are very informal like the coffee and chat. Some networking requires you to pay membership fees, others are just drop-in Pay As You Go sessions.
For example, Stowmarket Chamber runs both slightly-structured breakfasts and informal coffee mornings, and like ISSBA’s informal Meet the Members networking, you do not need to be a member to attend, though members get discounted rates.
If you are meeting just for meeting’s sake – how can you justify taking the business time do it? That depends on you and your business.
A lot of businesses do network in order to build and maintain close, dependable working relationships with other businesses, on the basis that people want to do business with people they know, like, and (particularly) trust. In this case, I would take the time to network so that when these other businesses come to place orders, I will be uppermost in their mind. And that maybe they will recommend me to others too.
Nothing wrong with that.
But this isn’t the case for everyone. However, there is an often-repeated myth that networking is all about the business that is referred to you by your network, and it is only successful if it generates orders. In other words – one size fits all.
That is simply not true. We are not all the same size or shape, and neither are our businesses. In my experience, people go networking for all sorts of reasons, and generating business is often not the reason at all! Particularly for smaller businesses.
Why else do people go networking?
I have carried out informal surveys in several networks, formal and informal ones, and the top reasons people give me vary in order, but the top four are:
1. Getting out and meeting people!
As more and more of us work from home, this is becoming a major factor. I think many of us have become very aware of this over the lockdown period! We are social animals, and we need to interact with others.
True some of us are more like cats than dogs – we want to meet with people when it suits us, and on our terms – but all of us want to be able to get out of our caves and meet others occasionally.
Social connection is important for our mental health.
2. Getting help and support from others.
Sometimes we need help and support from other people in the same boat as ourselves. Whether we are discussing the latest technological developments in our field … or the difficulties of getting paid on time. It is good to hear from others about what is going on, and how they are dealing with the issues – and maybe you will have some ideas to help them, too?
For myself, I value the chance to discuss with other professionals issues outside my field that my clients have raised with me. For example, is this something we should worry about or not? If it needs attention, where could I suggest my client goes to for help? (When is a Google search appropriate and when should professional help be sought?)
3. Talking in your peer group.
However we define our peer group, as “other people in my line of business” or as “other people in business in my area”, for example, it has a different dynamic to many everyday interactions and is often more relaxed.
When we talk to customers, we have to remember that they are customers. Just as when we talk to suppliers, we have to remember that they are suppliers. The same is true for talking to our employees or our boss … or the bank for that matter!
4. For a number of people who work from home, going out into the business community reaffirms that they, too, are “real business people”.
It will be interesting to see how attitudes change in the coming months, but historically working from home has been treated as if it meant you were not truly serious about your business, that it was almost “just a hobby”. And if you are one of the people who has turned your hobby into a business, it can be really important, psychologically, to recognise yourself as a real business-person!
So is getting business not important at all? No, that isn’t true either. In each of the networks I surveyed, getting business emerged as a reason … eventually.
People would mention getting business directly from other group members or being recommended by them to people outside the group. They would also mention networking in order to get good reliable local suppliers, and for some people, finding business partners for collaborative working was key. For example, in one case a copywriter looking to meet a web designer, in another a print broker wanting to meet a graphic designer.
It’s not all about orders!
Networking is not always all about the orders you generate, the money you make! It depends on you and your business.
Nevertheless, networking is an investment of your time and attention, so it is important that you know why you are attending each network, and that you create a strategy for getting what you want from that network. And that you withdraw from the network if it is no longer working for you.
For example, if you network in order to generate business, you will need to look for a network containing potential customers, and potential introducers. The individual people in the room matter far less than the businesses they represent.
On the other hand, if you work in isolation from a home office, and want to get out to meet people, you will be looking for a warm and welcoming network comprising people that you feel you have some connection with. The actual businesses in the room probably don’t matter too much, but the people do. If the people change and you no longer feel so welcome, find another network!
The important thing to remember is that whether you’re networking for social connection, or to offer and receive support, or to meet with like-minded people, or to be part of the local business community, then
- You don’t need to have a killer “sixty-second” pitch for your business. Just to be able to explain briefly and clearly what you do!
- You don’t need to exchange business cards with everyone else in the room. But you might want to meet up for coffee with another member outside the meeting occasionally, just to find out more about them.
And you know what? You’ll enjoy networking a lot more! And as you relax, people will get to know you better, and you may even get some business from it.
So, wherever you do it – enjoy your networking!”