What does networking mean to you?

Sharon Langford has discovered that the art and skill of networking has little to do with the following two myths:  

Myth No.1 – Networking is about selling to people

Myth No.2 – Networking is only for business people

“The power of networking is in connections and successful networking is about connecting people – the more connected you are the more successful you will be.”

Myth 1: Networking is about selling to people

This is probably the biggest misnomer about networking. In the business world, networking may increase your chance of more sales (if that’s what your ‘business’ is about) but the activity of ‘networking’ is absolutely NOT about selling. Networking is about relationships and connections and is as applicable in the school environment as in the world of commerce. Networking is about getting to know people, finding out what they do and how YOU can HELP THEM. As Tim Sanders says about success and net-working in his book ‘Love is the Killer App‘… ‘you share your knowledge, your address book and your compassion’.

Myth 2: Networking is only for business people

Now that I’ve busted Myth 1, I hope you will be able to see that networking is for EVERYONE. At the simplest level, you could find a plumber or deco-rator and it could help you find a financial spe-cialist to sort out those niggling tax affairs. At school, it could help you to find work-placements and speakers for business-related classroom sessions. One example I heard recently was of a head teacher who needed to gain £50,000 private sector funding to support achieving Specialist School status. She used her networking to promote the school and build contacts in the business community. From these contacts she gained support and advice to enable her to achieve that financial goal. 

Top Ten Tips to Make Networking Work for you

1 Attend meetings, conferences and events
2 Introduce yourself to people you don’t know
3 Introduce people to other people
4 Have a supply of business/contact cards to hand
5 Give and receive information, contacts and referrals
6 Make requests – ask for help, information and ideas
7 Keep in touch – make follow up calls and e-mails
8 Respond promptly to invitations
9 Say thank you
10 Encourage and congratulate people in your network

Preparing for the event

Decide which events you want to go to. It may be that you have to try out a few first to find out which suit you best. Think about how you’re going to introduce yourself… it doesn’t need to be a ‘slick’ pitch, perhaps something along the lines of ‘I’m June Stephens, I teach at St George’s School in the history department. I’m really interested in how business and education can work to support each other’ …or whatever is appropriate and comfort-able for you. Be positive about what you do. Make sure that you have a supply of business/contact cards – it’s easier and more professional than scrabbling about in your pocket or bag for a pen and scrap of paper.

During the event

If you’re brand new to a meeting it’s fine to start conversations with people using simple things such as ‘Is this your first event?’ ‘Have you trav-elled far to get here?’ Lots of other people are uncomfortable being in a new place when they know no-one.

Look for groups of people to join. Good net-workers will welcome you in and introduce you to other people. If there doesn’t seem to be an open-ing to join in, then move around and find another small group. Once you’re in conversation, be inter-ested in what others do and say and be willing to share information about yourself; be interested and interesting.

The purpose of networking is to meet people and you can’t do that by spending the whole meeting talking to one or two people. If you find that you need to move out of a group or on from someone, then it’s ok to close conversations. Use a phrase such as ‘I know there’s lots we can talk about, however, right now I need to catch up with some other people who are here. Thanks’. If you are both talk-ing about a date to meet, then either get your diaries out there and then or make a note of a good time to call. Always follow up on conversations which suggest a meeting or telephone call.

After the event

Transfer details from any business cards to your diary and make notes in your journal or address book about the people you’ve met. If you’ve arranged to call someone or send them some information, then make sure you do it. One of the things which will make you a good networker is that you do what you’ve agreed to.

Stay in touch with people you’ve met networking by doing things such as sending e-mails… just a ‘hi, how are you doing’ is enough. Perhaps you can for-ward them a document or article you’ve seen. Look for other people in your network with whom you could connect people you’ve met. And, if you’ve seen that they’ve had something published, then follow up with a note of congratulations.

Networking is a powerful tool to improve both your working and personal life. It takes time and energy to build a good quality network – the more you invest the greater your return will be.

Happy Networking!

References:

Professional Networking for Dummies’ by Donna Fisher

Love is the Killer App‘ by Tim Sanders

Some networking organisations and websites:

The Business Referral Exchange

Ecademy

Chambers of Commerce

Business Networking International

Sharon Langford Kaleidoscope Learning Solutions

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise, December 2004.

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