Contributed Column

The Manager's Corner

Networking: What it is and why it matters

In my experience, networking needs to be an important component of any professional’s business development strategy. It’s low-cost, high-return, easily done, and endless in its possibilities. It can be done well without in any way diluting your brand as a professional.

In today’s competitive marketplace where professional services are increasingly becoming commoditized, effective networking is an essential component of differentiating yourself and your work from other professionals. It’s no longer just a helpful thing to do; it’s a mission-critical skill.

Interestingly (but not surprisingly), many professionals tell me they are not entirely comfortable with their networking capabilities. They believe they do not take full advantage of the opportunities that optimal networking might generate.

Why is this? No doubt, none of us learned how to network during our professional training. Further, some professionals have negative associations with the concept of networking.

I often ask clients what networking means to them. Their answers are interesting, including, “I know I should network, but it feels like manipulating other people and that makes me uncomfortable,” and “It’s about getting to know other people, but after I’ve done that, I don’t know what to do next.” Another said he thought networking was somewhat “unprofessional.”

When I think about networking, three things come to mind: relationship-building, giving, and Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point.

Gladwell discusses the midnight ride of Paul Revere and why it successfully mobilized American resistance during the Revolutionary War. Paul Revere was the quintessential “connector” (he knew everyone), “maven” (he knew a lot about everything), and “salesman” (he knew how to promote anything). He was a consummate networker. It wasn’t about him; it was about using his networking skills to accomplish something important for his community. I expect he never asked for thanks; giving to his community was all the recognition he wanted or needed.

Perceiving networking as an opportunity to give to others within your community, as opposed to getting from others, can make the process a lot more appealing. Building a high-functioning network depends on both what you know and whom you know. You can’t give to others unless you know what matters to them.

I love to network; I’m a natural at it. Put me anywhere in the world and, like a cat landing solidly on all four feet, I’ll instinctively begin networking. It’s the relationship-building and the giving that I find irresistible. I’m also a relatively extroverted person, so interacting with other people is an intrinsically enjoyable and energizing experience for me.

Everyone you meet has a unique perspective, and I’m endlessly interested in learning about that. I gather information and remember it. Invariably, later on I find such information could be helpful to another person. Then really remarkable things start happening. I might suggest ways to connect the dots so the other person has new options. I don’t tell others what to do, but instead act as a catalyst by connecting people with opportunities. It’s their choice to act on those or not.

Introverts can find networking more difficult, particularly in larger group settings where they don’t know a lot of people. For them, it may be helpful to focus on opportunities in smaller groups or one-to-one. That said, some people who have a natural preference for introversion might intentionally choose to engage in more extroverted behaviour and be very successful at it.

It takes a while to build a high-functioning network that consistently generates new business. But if you persevere, are consistent in your efforts, and continue broadening and deepening your contacts, you will be successful. You will never regret the time, energy, and creativity you invested in the process.

Emily Morrow (www.emilymorrow.com)of Shelburne and Auckland, New Zealand, provides tailored consulting services to business owners, professional practice firms, executives and HR personnel.