The scepticism surrounding networking which frequently surfaces makes me smile. We hold a relaxed business get together once a month for local people on Twitter who want to meet up face to face and we call it ‘Cruddle’. It’s held in a quaint country pub where the regulars are understandably protective of their territory and wary of outsiders. A conversation overheard at a recent meeting went something like this; “Who are that lot over there?”. The whispered response, “N.e.t.w.o.r.k.e.r.s”, resulted in a knowing look, a nodding of the head and an equally low-toned reply of “Ah! Networkers!”, firmly setting us aside as something more than a little ‘strange’.
Now I have to confess I’m a networking devotee. As someone who dreaded cold calling, it has aided my escape from being confronted by a Rottweiler or similar deterrent guarding the door to the decision maker preventing any likelihood of making contact. Networking events are (usually) Rottweiler-free and even if your ideal client doesn’t attend the same meeting as you, there’s a fair chance that someone in your group is able to give you an introduction and referral. It’s not always about the business done and dusted on the day, but more about the potential of being put in touch with the right people at the right time. Generally speaking fellow networkers don’t bite.
However, if you want to get the most out of networking, you need to be generous. That doesn’t mean offering the people sitting at your table a share of your breakfast, or buying a round of drinks at the bar. It’s about being on receive and not only using the transmit button when you’re engaging in conversation. There’s nothing more irritating when you’re given a designated 10 minute slot to chat with someone, only to find they use the entire time to sell you a service or product without asking a single question about your business. Admittedly it takes conscious effort to develop good listening skills in the same way in which there’s an art to being a good speaker. I love the William Jennings Bryant quotation; ‘Two people in a conversation amount to four people talking. The four are what one person says, what he really wanted to say, what his listener heard, and what he thought he heard.’ Although establishing business relationships within a group takes time to build an element of trust, this inevitably results in a network of ambassadors who will essentially help you to expand your business contacts, while you in turn help them to expand theirs.
These observations should in no way be perceived as discrimination against Rottweilers, some of whom I’m sure are the gentlest of dogs. It should also be noted that although networkers may not bite, even friendly ‘puppy dogs’ are known to bark aggressively if you’ve caught them on a particularly stressful day. In this case, it may actually be wise to share your breakfast or offer them a drink. Give and take. That’s what good networking’s about isn’t it?