Networking relationships take time and just like in our personal relationships, we very seldom fall in love at first sight. It takes time to nurture and build trust until you eventually decide you like that person. The same principles apply in networking.

When people hear the word “Networking” they immediately think of boring cocktail parties and a room full of stilted conversations with self-absorbed people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Good networking is all about building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. Cocktail parties may be the first point of contact but only represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to true relationship and network building.

The biggest roadblocks that come up in my training and consulting work are:

The belief that “There’s not enough time to network.”
Firstly I believe that when people make the mind shift away from “It’s what you know” to the importance of “It’s who you know” in the business environment today, radical career changes occur. When business people awaken to the true impact networking can have on their career they begin to see its strategic value. The realisation occurs that time spent networking actually represents a very valuable investment in their careers. These same business people also see colleagues or competitors, who have spent time and effort branding themselves and cultivating networks, get ahead in their careers. This provides further impetus to the realisation that they are becoming a “no-name” brand. When you see the value of networking, you will make time to attend functions that you normally don’t attend.

The belief that “Networking is only for sales people – I see it as schmoozing and being inauthentic to who you really are.”
Now more than ever, business people need to have a well developed business network. Networks deliver private information, power and influence – all of which are vital skills that will give leaders the edge in the increasingly competitive business environment. This applies across the board, from actuaries to personal assistants, from the entrepreneurial world to the corporate world. There are no exceptions!

Find a networking style that works for you, where you are being true to who you are but stretching yourself out of your comfort zone at the same time. You don’t have to be the life and soul of the cocktail party. For some, this will mean going to events; for others, it will be one-on-one conversations.

The belief that “I’m an introvert and only extroverts are good networkers.”
This is fundamentally not true; in fact some of the best networkers I know are shy and introverted. This is because shy people have the ability to listen attentively to the person talking, and to listen out for where the business connection may be. Extroverts are too busy focusing on their favourite subject: “Me, Me, Me”, and this does not facilitate good networking. If you’re doing all the talking you’re not doing good networking.

Not making the most of existing contacts, and having no follow-up system to manage the network.
On average, every person knows approximately 250 people. For the benefits of this discussion, the definition of people you know is: people that would recognise you, greet you and know your name. Where this system becomes very powerful lies in who those 250 people know. On average those people know 250 people, which means that all of us are in indirect contact with a network of 62 500 (250 x 250) people. If you divide your network into sections and keep in touch regularly, your 250 contacts will start introducing you to their networks systematically. But, just as in life there is no such thing as a free lunch, so in networking you can’t net-sit or net-drink, you have to get up and net-work. Get a Rolodex or a business card scanner and start making your network work!

About the author: Helen Nicholson studied to be an Accountant at Wits University and has evolved into a passionate entrepreneur. Helen specialises in personal branding and in helping business people expand and develop their business networks. She lived in the Middle East for five years where she developed and sold her own successful business in Dubai before returning to South Africa. She also gained international corporate experience in the IT industry, co-ordinating the marketing Middle East operation for Novell. Helen then consulted and lectured at Wits Business School where she edited the Wits Business School magazine called Embark. Helen is a passionate South African and thrives on the meaningful work she does as a consultant in the area of Leadership development. Her clients include Ernst & Young, FNB, the City of Joburg, Anglo Platinum, Sasol and Eskom. Helen is a mentor at Cida City Campus for aspiring young business people and is a professional member of the National Speakers Association of South Africa. She has co-authored a book on Networking with international expert Nigel Risner. Helen is a single mother of identical twin girls and is an avid reader and runner. For further info on “Master the Art of Networking” workshops or presentations, contact Helen@helennicholson.co.za

Small Business Forum

The Small Business Forum is an independent network of entrpreneurs and small business owners established to encourage and support the creation, growth and development of small business in South Africa.

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