Ok, I’m starting with a confession. I hate networking. Or at least I used to. I totally understand and accept that there are some people and certain personality types who love networking, breaking the ice and making new connections.
But my own personal default is to work alone, headphones on, in my own head and responsible for my own outcomes. This is something that I’ve learned about myself over many years and once I had this realisation my almost sweat inducing nervousness of networking all made sense.
I’m not anti-social by any measure, but there was something about the forced expectation of outcome surrounding the concept of formalised networking that had me all a quiver at the point of entering the venue.
Thankfully those days are over. There is something liberating about understanding yourself and realising that actually you are very rarely alone in how you feel about these things.
The reality is that nobody outside of your own head is expecting anything from you in these circumstances, quite the opposite, you are usually pushing a false expectation on yourself from the confines of your own mind and trust me, everyone else has other things on theirs too.
Once that clicks and you can look at networking through refreshed eyes, you can really see it for what it is. An opportunity, in whatever form.
So, personal, individual or subjective opinions aside, why is networking so important? And, why has this network-a-phobe decided that it’s the best part of any job?
1. Meeting other like-minded, industry or market colleagues
I am willing to bet that you are awesome at what you do and the very fact that you are hanging out on LEAP suggests that you take an active approach to your own development and learning. Boiling it down the very act of learning is ultimately the sharing of information. Person to person in some form or another.
Of course there are the best among us who genuinely spark, discover, uncover new information too but we all learn from sharing. Meeting and knowing other people with similar interests, jobs, companies, responsibilities only facilitates that sharing. Every time you shake a hand and introduce yourself, you are about to learn something new, even if that’s just the name of the person reaching their hand out to you.
2. Market or Industry understanding
Those of us out to be the best at what we do make it our own personal mission to stay on top of our market, our industry, our competitors, technologies, leaders, colleagues, developments, successes and failures.
Networking, in any form, from trying to get a job to finding investors, again means that you are an active part of your market, industry, ultimately your network. You will be at the forefront of understanding and become that expert in your field.
I mean this in an almost strictly Business Development sense. Yes times have changed since more business was done on the golf course than in the boardroom, but that doesn’t mean that we all have to pack our clubs away. With the developments in technology, the open embrace of flexible working and incorporation of non-traditional corporate structures business is more fluid and assisted than ever.
Automated sales process and digital lead generation are commonplace but the fact remains people, in the flesh, face to face still make these things happen and now that we are in an environment where we can rely on the robotic gremlins to do the more monotonous elements of our business development, we are freed up to make relationships, share opportunities, find real synergies in the real world.
4. Confidence practice
As I’ve made very clear by my introduction, networking isn’t something I took to naturally. In any form, in person or over technology platforms etc but ask anyone who knows me or anyone I’ve worked with and they will tell you that they would have assumed the total opposite. I’ll tell you why. I faked it. Not in a deceptive or nefarious way, but I fronted it out. I buried my nerves, took a breath, dived in and played a part.
The part of a social butterfly, someone who revelled in public speaking, someone who wanted to break the ice and make new connections. Because the truth is I valued the opportunities in being that person and wanted to grow. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, learn new skills and adapt. Nobody ever grows in their comfort zone.
5. Getting known
Networking isn’t just about who you get to know, its about who gets to know you too. Who is going to reach out to you having met and chatted at a networking event or platform? What are they up to and what do they do? How will you influence them and their success? What value can you bring to others?
These are questions most people never ask. It seems from many things. For example, a feeling of not being worthy or having nothing of value to offer, or being too busy to think about it.
Ultimately, networking is something you either love or hate. But, outside of that, none of us can argue that it doesn’t bring huge value…. We are by nature social creatures after all.