24: Constructive networking
Networking is an important and integral “tool” to your business and it’s an art form few master well to their advantage. Over the years I have created a “contact list” of the many people I have met over the years. from business, politics and sport. Just trying to “keep in touch” is a time consuming job, but in the long run a well worth exercise.
Years ago I remember vividly my first 2 “networking events” I attended which at that time, business networking was broadly a new phenomena. The problem was that few understood its concept and use, now it’s a major business category with trade organisations that not only you pay an annual membership, but also pay to attend meetings and some are very expensive. Going back 20 years I honestly thought with many others you turned up and people gave you an order book full of orders. Mmmmm, after the first meeting I thought I had been conned, because whilst, yes I actually got one bit of business, it wasn’t an order book full! The next meeting a fellow guest seriously bemoaned the fact that this was his third networking event he had turned up to and got no business at all! The penny dropped with me as I started to realise that networking, is exactly what it means…to network amongst your own, create a network of business people that you could regularly keep in contact with and eventually referrals will start to come in.
There are some network groups I’m not too keen on. One in particular I went to about 20 years ago, whereby you have to constantly give referrals based on recommendations. The problem there was that I started to give referrals on people I didn’t know, more annoyingly I was given a referral about a conference someone wanted to be organised, I did all the leg work and then they went to another travel agent and gave them all the work!!!!!
Networking has to work for you, not for any organisation and as you, dare I say this, get older, much more sophisticated. I attend about 4 decent events myself per year. The best one is the Daily Telegraph Festival of Business, held in the Autumn, a free to attend event with very high profile speakers.
Huntingdonshire District Council do an event early in the year to discuss their business objectives for the next financial year. Always well attended by CEOs of the big businesses of the district.
But the whole point is over time you will have created a network of business people, email them, post newsletters, cards, even make the odd call, because these people will contact you sooner or later wanting to do business with you.