• Sarah Learney

Network to Success

Updated: Sep 2, 2020

For many of us, Networking is an activity we make a concerted effort to avoid. Certainly, for a huge proportion of my career, the very thought of having to participate in networking events filled me with dread. However, in business, networking is a vital tool in helping us to aspire and evolve. It isn’t all about fake smiles and nodding in the right places, rather it is about forming alliances for the mutual benefit of everyone involved.

Networking; it’s kind of a big deal!

So, what are the benefits of networking?

  • Being part of a network means that you are never alone! It means that you are surrounded, at all times, by positive people who will support and inspire you throughout your career journey

  • Your network has the potential to provide you with insight into different fields, new skills, training, mentoring or advice on how you can improve personally and professionally

  • Becoming part of a network ensures that you have the opportunity to make and receive referrals and recommendations, strengthening your reputation and that of your peers

  • Networking allows you to access opportunities you might not be able to find on your own. It is not unusual for an organisation to recruit internally through their own network rather than advertising externally.

  • Networking is one of the most effective methods for accelerating the pace of your career and providing you with new opportunities to succeed

First things first, Fight Your Fear!

Networking skills rarely come easily. It is completely natural to feel anxious, self-conscious and apprehensive. The trick is to start off slowly, continuing at a pace you are comfortable with. Begin by taking small tentative steps, progressing into more self-assured strides, which will see you take a confident path towards your career destination.

Set Achievable Goals:

Whilst networking can be rewarding, it requires strategy, motivation and courage. For anyone seeking a new career opportunity, enhancing your network and surrounding yourself with positive and helpful people that will support and inspire you, is hugely advantageous.

Now you’ve decided it’s time to extend your network, remember these top tips:

  • Smile! It will automatically lower your anxiety levels and create a positive first impression

  • If you are uncomfortable in social situations, challenge yourself to do a little more than you normally would by speaking to someone that little bit longer

  • If you feel anxious about interacting with others, try preparing questions and discussion topics beforehand

Identify your immediate network

The best, and certainly the least daunting place to start, is within your existing network. These people are already be in your life and are therefore best placed to help start your journey.

Family and Friends: Their sole purpose is to be entirely supportive (even when they’re being hugely annoying). These people are our foundations and we are all fortunate enough to have at least one friend or family member who is our fiercest ally, our most steadfast supporter, yet also strong enough to challenge us on occasions. Networking starts here!

  • Schedule a lunch date or invite them for a drink.

  • Don’t be scared to be honest about your aspirations and don’t be too proud to ask for help.

  • Focusing your conversation on their professional experiences will reveal new perspectives and ideas, even if you’ve known each a long time.

  • Ask if they can connect you to someone in your field and build from there.

Co-workers: Love them or loathe them, our colleagues are an extension of our family and friends. Likelihood is that you spend more time with them than anyone else. It’s therefore essential that you take the time to nurture these relationships.

The workplace is one of the most obvious places to grow your network and can start from a simple conversation in the office kitchen. It seems straightforward and almost trivial, but smiling at and greeting everyone with whom you come into contact, asking about their weekends, paying attention to what they say, building relationships and even friendships with your colleagues, will ensure that your support network extends into the workplace.

Co-workers have the capacity to provide you with mentoring and practical training. Perhaps they have a technical skill you would benefit from? Maybe there is a more experienced or senior colleague who is willing to impart their wisdom and help develop your confidence?

These relationships can lead to a more collaborative workforce and enhance your value to an organisation. With the support of your colleagues, a letter of recommendation from a superior, a referral from one department to another, your chances of career advancement are greatly increased.

Broaden your Horizons

This is where we start to take those tentative steps outside of our comfort zone and look at identifying relationships outside of our immediate network. You may prefer to start by looking at clients and customers or fellow professionals in your field. Alternatively, you may prefer to start with personal acquaintances and those you see locally, at the gym, at the school gates or in your neighbourhood.

For anyone that knows me, knows that I am terrified of School mums! I’ve always been anxious about being judged, for choosing to work full time and sending my son to Nursery or the Childminder. I wish I could integrate myself into their groups or form friendships with the other mums. I personally find it incredibly daunting and this is one of my own anxieties which I am keen to overcome. However, in business, I am confident talking to anyone and everyone.

Intentionally broadening and maintaining your network is one of the most important steps you can take to increase your chances of success. There are potential contacts everywhere and making the most of these connections, can significantly benefit your career.

So how do we go about formulating these relationships, nurturing them and making ourselves visible?

1. Think Quality over Quantity

Networking is not about trying to meet as many people as you can. Seek people who will make a difference in your life. Build a network matrix and think about who you would like to be a part of that.

2. Be proactive!

Relationships don’t just happen! Nor can past relationships be revived without applying a certain level of effort. Cultivating your network is crucial to maintaining beneficial connections. Maintaining pleasant relationships with your extended network at all times, even just by sending a short text message, is the best way to achieve this.

3. Focus on the relationship, not your resume!

Networking isn’t about selling your skills and experience to everyone with whom you come into contact. Focus instead on your relationship skills. Present yourself as a likable person before showing your professional worth.

4. Develop your Active Listening skills

Whilst networking, it’s easy to become so focused on yourself that you forget to really pay attention to others. Ask people genuine questions and listen closely to their answers. Listen empathetically and with curiosity rather than with self-interest. You’ll learn a lot in the process and make an impression with your attentiveness.

5. Give and Take

As with any relationship, networking should be mutually beneficial to both parties. Be sure to let your network know how you can help them too. Remember that networking is about turning outward.

6. Volunteer

This is a unique opportunity to share your skills and make yourself visible. If you can, donate your time to a good cause and network with people who aren’t in your industry. Pick a cause or group that resonates with your values and donate a few hours each month. Volunteering can help you grow your social network by exposing you to people who share your passions.

7. Innovate!

Technology is one of our greatest resources for creating contacts and cultivating relationships. COVID-19 has shown everyone the importance of staying connected, even when we’re apart. Video calling, Zoom meetings, Microsoft TEAMS, have all become the ‘new norm’. Similarly, LinkedIn has become a community more intent upon mutual support.

  • Use social media platforms, liked LinkedIn, to reach out to professionals in your field

  • Follow businesses or groups whose ethos is comparable with your own

  • Participate in webinars which offer topics of interest

  • Communicate with your clients and customers

  • Reconnect with former friends and colleagues

  • Share articles of interest and motivational quotes

  • Provide testimonials for others and request some of your own

8. Networking Events

Whilst it can be tempting to only network from behind the safety of a computer screen, networking face to face can provide a more personal interaction. Naturally, you may need to wait until it is safe to do so and only when social distancing can be achieved.

  • Rather than only emailing a contact, schedule a time to have coffee with them

  • Consider attending events where you can make new connections.

  • If you’re searching for a new job in your current field, attend a seminar, a convention or a business social. Once there, meet as many new faces as possible and exchange business cards.

Similarly, you can also network with friends and family in much more informal settings. Accept invitations to parties and mention to those you speak with that you are looking to achieve career progression. You never know when you may find the right person with the right connections.

9. Follow Up

Following up is an essential step in nurturing and continuing these relationships. Always follow up with new connections after making initial contact. This follow-up can involve thanking them for meeting with you or asking further questions. These continued interactions strengthen the relationship, remind the contact of your meeting and perhaps cause them to think of you in the future. If you stay connected and involved, you never know when an exciting development opportunity might present itself.

10. Resources

Having worked within Recruitment for over a decade, and having recently braved an economic recession and launched my own business, utilising ever available resource to me has become paramount.

  • LinkedIn; if you don’t have a profile already, create one. LinkedIn is a professional community within which you can make contacts, nurture relationships and stay informed about what is happening in your industry.

  • Social Media; it doesn’t all have to be about selfies and self-promotion. Social Media is an amazing resource for finding out about community events and identifying opportunity to get involved.

  • Newsletters & Blogs; these are a vital resource as to what is happening within your professional community and often provide information about what events are happening locally. My favourites include Chwarae Teg’s newsletter, an organisation vehemently committed to creating a fairer Wales where women achieve and prosper. As a woman in business, I am passionate about their mission and genuinely enjoy about their progress.

  • Business Support Groups; until you start networking, you may not even know that these are out there. ‘Enterprise Nation’ and ‘Business Wales’ are superb resources for anyone seeking advice and guidance about establishing your own business, as well as providing essential and specialist skills training. I recently participated in an online webinar about increasing my sales conversions. From that, I became acquainted with a superb sales professional who provided me with a structured approach to business development. Even having been within this industry for over a decade, this training allowed me to really focus and hone my skill set.

  • Events; By subscribing to the Chwarae Teg newsletter, I found out about the forthcoming ‘Womenspire’ event. This is a vibrant celebration of women in Wales, and better still, this year it’s online. I’ve already booked my free ticket and I am looking forward to sharing in an evening of inspiration and recognition of women in Wales. #womenspire2020 #BeWomenspired

To Summarise:

Increasing your visibility is the primary benefit of networking, but it’s also just the beginning. Building relationships with people who you feel are knowledgeable and reliable can provide valuable guidance and help you get where you want to go.

Aspire to progress your career and enhance your personal and professional network, creating a support system which will inspire you to achieve.

Innovate the contemporary channels by which you meet new people and take a leap outside of your comfort zone. Not only will you meet people who can benefit from your support, you’ll build a professional circle based on the ideal that goodwill should be paid forward

Evolve your thought process in respect to networking. In a society which is constantly changeable, don’t allow fear of change to block your path towards future progression. By networking within your current circle and beyond, you will exponentially increase your opportunities for success.

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