Build your network before you need it

By Douglas Philip, Director

Why is it so important to pre-emptively work on developing a strong network?

The key to an effective network is the speed at which you are able to leverage it, otherwise your network is essentially redundant. Therefore, it is really important to pre-emptively work on developing a strong personal network before you need it.

Typically, we build a network for long-term opportunities, which requires relationships to be built on trust, and that takes time to achieve.

People see through short-term networking activities that are clearly pre-empting an imminent request for help, or, worse, a plea for assistance that comes out of the blue.

Are there any quick wins that can help you get to where you’d like to be?

There is no ‘golden bullet’ for success, but one route is to work on expanding your network through your existing contacts. Don’t be afraid to be asked to be introduced to somebody, or work to conjure circumstances where it will happen organically. When you have been introduced to someone, it creates a different environment as you have been ‘vouched for’, which instantly creates a level of trust.

How can an introvert work on their network?

Introverts sometimes struggle with networking in a physical environment, but networking is any targeted activity where you are looking to bring value to another person. The idea that networking is purely a physical activity and is therefore a struggle for less outgoing people – is a common misconception.

If an introvert, use your strengths to your advantage. Rather than focus on the quantity of conversation, focus on the quality of conversation. Use your research skills to generate angles to create connections.

On the day it is all about being authentic and using the research you have done to create a connection. I always encourage people to talk about non-work-related topics. People don’t often come alive when talking shop, but tap into somebody’s passion and watch the conversation flow!

And remember, very few people actually enjoy real-life networking – it can be a stressful situation even for the most outgoing of people. It doesn’t take much to add value to a conversation, and people will be immediately grateful that you have enriched their experience.

How do you work on your own network?

I do my best to be targeted in my networking, and to understand what my objective is. Networking isn’t about making friends - it is about creating mutually beneficial relationships.

I always think about how I can add value. I try to avoid thinking about what I might get in return - if I can add value then the rest takes care of itself.

How could people justify this work to their employer?

Justifying to your employer that investing in building a network is worthwhile is always a challenge. It will depend on the employer’s culture. I’ve seen some that embrace it and some that fear it. You have to be proactive and communicate clearly. If you are networking within work time, ensure you display the value to the organisation and update line managers.

Most employers understand that whilst networking benefits you as an individual, the benefits to the organisation can also be considerable, through more contacts, new ideas and increased personal motivation.

Once you’ve built up your network and goodwill, how do you maximise and protect it?

Once you’ve built up your network and goodwill within your industry, the next challenge is to maximise it for your personal benefit. Your own integrity goes a long way in maintaining the quality of the interactions with your network, and fundamental to that is maintaining discretion.

Don’t throw the names of your contacts around in conversations without first considering (and even asking) whether that contact would want to be introduced to the person you are speaking to. I try to facilitate any introduction and manage the process.

When you make an introduction, always explain why you think those people should be in contact. It ‘greases the wheels’ but also ensures you should get the credit for a considerate introduction.

Finally, whilst it can be tempting to reach out and ask for that favour as soon as you have built a relationship, it pays to keep your powder dry. Some people suggest thinking of your relationships like a bank account - the longer you spend building a positive balance, the easier it is to withdraw from it!

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