In the second of a two-part series, Janine Garner explains how to step beyond networking to collaboration
If you try to cast your ‘net’ too wide, it will quickly become evident that you cannot form the sort of connections necessary to work at this level.
In part 1 of this series, ‘The power of the tribe’ (Accounting Technician, July 2015), we talked about why networking is so important to your business – especially when your business is just in its start-up phase, when you are working alone, or in a small enterprise.
What can happen, though, when you are in a truly effective business network (or networks) that is open and provides engagement across industries, sectors, and both corporate and entrepreneurial spaces, is a step beyond the networking space.
This is a move from looking from the perspective of “What does this offer to MY business?” on a singular level to “What can this offer OUR businesses?” It is plurality and collaboration, and the realization that there is a whole iceberg that can be turned into bottled water, versus sitting alone and viewing said iceberg as a threat.
This is a move from the ‘me’ space of business to the commercial ‘we’ space of collaborative thinking.
Let’s look at a hypothetical example using that iceberg. Person X in the networking group wants to add to her online business with a new icy clear water line, straight from the iceberg. TitanicWater.com is all ready for launch – but it is lacking some resources. So, X goes to her women’s networking group as she knows that Y, a PR company owner, and Z, a bottling plant manager, would be ideal to work with and add value to her business. None of them has the funding to expand alone, but if they ‘bank’ their skill sets together, then TitanicWater.com has the potential to be a money-spinner for all of them.
So they form a collaborative team – and Titanic Water is the newest craze to hit the internet and diets everywhere.
This is the power of collaborative thinking. It takes a network, and builds on it. The potential of commercial collaboration, particularly for solo and small practice businesses, is enormous. The hypothetical example above just shows one way in which this kind of expansion on an existing network can help you to write your own ‘commercial currency’ – without spending hard-won hard cash. Having access to complementary thoughts, ideation, and hard skills means that your business, and theirs, will prosper and grow.
This requires a great deal of trust, however. It means being willing to invest in others’ success, as well as your own. And this is where developing your networks effectively becomes so important.
If you try to cast your ‘net’ too wide, it will quickly become evident that you cannot form the sort of connections necessary to work at this level. Collaboration is all about engagement, and if you are constantly at large events with little or no interaction on a one-to-one level, then you cannot possibly expect to gain trust, respect, or get any idea of what a business is actually focused on. If you want to move beyond the business card bossa nova, you need to look to networking groups and events that focus on your interests and aspirations.
You also need to be willing to listen to what others have to say. If you are in a network purely out of self-interest, then you will stay firmly in the ‘me’ space, as this indicates a closed mentality, and an inability to understand other people’s needs.
A large part of collaborative thinking from a commercial perspective is an understanding that others have equal ambitions to yours, and respecting and nurturing those ambitions. It is not just pie-in-the-sky talk to say, “the more you give, the more you receive” if you are in the right network. If you are willing to give some time, energy and expertise, then you will receive back tenfold as those within your network will promote your business and give their time and expertise to you in return.
Networking becomes collaboration once you let go of perceptions of what ‘networking’ actually is. It isn’t a dirty word; it isn’t an opportunity to collect as many business cards as possible and treat them like trophies.
It is actually an incredibly valuable business tool that can take you to the next level of success – whether that is with bottled water, or a new banking app.