Networking, connecting, meeting, doing coffee, lunch dates and even speed connecting – all terms synonymous with meeting others to drive skill sets, contacts and ongoing business and personal growth. Networking as we know it has evolved. It is no longer a business card swapping fest or as I once heard described – one hand to give your business card, the other to shake.
Meeting like-minded thinkers is absolutely an essential part of business and personal development. We all know those that seem to have made it a profession and others where the offer of a free breakfast, lunch or glass of wine will not entice them anywhere near the event – not even the offer of a free chocolate helps here!
An integral part of LBDG is connecting and collaborating and we have developed our own unique way of doing this and most importantly, making it work to drive business.
But what has changed in the world of networking if anything? What are the do’s and don’ts of making networks work for you?
I asked journalist, Kate Stone, to explore this very topic and what is clearly reflected in her own opinion and that of business women is that there is a new style in town and it doesn’t have to be hard work.
For me, networking has always been a bit of a dirty word. It conjures up images of people standing around awkwardly, thrusting a business card at each other, giving a sales pitch and then almost scurrying off in their eagerness to make the next connection – to not miss an opportunity to spread the Word According To Mary or Mike Smith.
I thought about this for a long time earlier this year. Does networking have to be such hard – well, work? And is it just me who views ‘traditional’ professional interactions this way?
The answer to both questions is no. And for me, the first thing to do is to remove the whole stigma associated with the actual term ‘network’ – by replacing it with a much more user-friendly nom de jour.
What seems to be the best way of growing and maintaining flourishing and healthy professional relationships is netweaving. It’s actually a word that simply popped into my head when I thought about the way that I like to interact with other people, but I have found out that it is a term used in the US quite a bit – so much for my original thinking – and it sums up all that is healthy about coming together in a productive way to learn, to grow and to support each other in business.
I spoke to a number of fellow LBD members about their view of networking, and I think partly because they are LBD members, I got a response similar to my own view. Because we don’t do the whole ‘have card, will babble’ approach to networking. It’s very much about the personal and – dare I say it – in some cases, the profound.
‘For me, going to networking events was something I viewed almost with dread when I first started out in business’, Kate Sutton, the gorgeous and talented founder of Uberkate jewellery told me. ‘And what I tended to find was that I would almost invariably gravitate to only a few people whom I could see immediately were like-minded spirits and pretty much ignore everyone else – because it was such hard work’.
‘For me, making connections has to be about the real, the genuine – about people who really care about your business and what you are trying to achieve. Networking isn’t about how many people you connect with – it’s about the quality of people you surround yourself with.’
Suzie Hoitink, the incredibly savvy owner of Clear Complexions Clinics, and ACT Telstra Businesswoman of the Year, completely agreed.
‘I find “traditional” networking methods don’t tend to add a lot of value to my business, nor are they really all that enjoyable’, she said to me. ‘I find that I get so much more done, and feel like I am making truly valuable connections, when I am in an environment which is much more intimate. The recent limited numbers seminar that LBD held, where everyone had a chance to be truly involved and participate and find out relevant answers from great business people – that’s what networking should be about’.
Both of them, and in fact everyone I talked to about this idea, thought that netweaving was a great way to sum up the way we should be – and are – connecting now. Because it is absolutely an interplay; crossing threads of experience and know-how to make a solid piece of material which everyone in our professional circles is involved in. We become closely intertwined rather than randomly contacting people whom when it comes down to it, we honestly don’t have much in common with – nor whom are relevant to our personal and business growth, and to be fair, us to theirs.
‘I would rather have five amazing people that I know I can count on to truly back me, and who understand what I am trying to achieve, than a plethora of business cards from individuals who in the long run aren’t really interested in my success’, said Kate Sutton. ‘And the whole “here’s my card, call me” isn’t a part of that process’.
So what has shifted so dramatically? Large networking events are still out there, and people definitely still go to them – why has the paradigm become so much more about making real relationships, rather than the ‘hail fellow well met’ of the wine glass in one hand, business card at ready in the other, greet and runs?
From everything I have observed, and my own experience, it’s simply because we don’t have time for anything other than the extraordinary, the authentic and the real.
I’ll give you an example. I recently went to a large do that was extremely well run, very professional – everything went like clockwork, all the ‘right’ people were there – and I came away feeling as though I had spent the morning talking about absolutely nothing of relevance to my business. Sure, I talked to some very pleasant people – but will I hear from any of them again, or will they hear from me? Highly doubtful. Because there was no meaning behind what we were doing. If you want the sharp and pointy view of things, it was simply a large group of people who by virtue of the fact that they are in business were in the same place at the same time.
So how do we want to connect?
Mostly behind closed doors, or in small groups of like-minded individuals it seems. Doing business over coffee. Meeting in non-traditional places, like parks. Dinners where what is said over the entree, stays said over the entree – and where everyone involved feels the same way. It is about trust and mutual respect rather than ‘what are you going to do for me’. In fact, the driving force seems to be ‘what can we do for each other‘.
For me, there has to be something more behind meeting people than a quickfire conversation about how successful they are, a quick ‘we must chat’ and a move on to the next person. I know that personally, I would rather be helping to weave a small but beautiful tapestry of like-minded individuals together – than being a loose thread who gets put in the rubbish bin because I’m not relevant to a stranger’s success.