Networking means connecting with other professionals for mutual benefit. This is usually undertaken to meet service providers, generate leads and keep abreast of industry best practice.
Award shows and training seminars are good ways to make new contacts. In the UK, both The Forum and the Call Centre Management Association organise networking opportunities and site visits, promoting cooperation and the exchange of ideas.
Digital networking is an increasingly important feature of modern business, through direct communications like email, and social networks.
How does networking help?
Networking keeps business leaders in contact with people in adjacent industries; first and foremost, it is a good way to stay informed of change.
It is also a chance to meet people who may be able to add value to a business. When an opportunity arises at a company that does not promote networking, they must start from scratch to fill it. The company that does promote networking can hit the ground running, as they are already connected to numerous candidates.
Experience and aptitude for developing contacts has traditionally been a key skill recruiters seek in potential senior managers. There is an emerging digital component to this, utilising business-oriented social networks such as LinkedIn. While the strongest bonds are still formed face-to-face, social media increases the ability to maintain those relationships over distance.
Hunting vs farming
Many business leaders recommend entering networking with an attitude of wanting to help people rather than trying to get something out of them.
The ‘hunting vs farming’ analogy is very useful in understanding how networking should be approached. Hunters aggressively accumulate as many contacts as possible; farmers spend time cultivating the contacts they make. Farmers may ultimately know fewer people, but they will know them better.
The best outcome is a mix of these two extremes, being proactive while also developing meaningful relationships with peers. One key aim of networking is to be the name a colleague comes up with when deciding who they trust with a project. Therefore it is important to be memorable, something which is most easily achieved by engaging with contacts on a social level.
Although networking events are business related, they are also social events. Showing an interest in a colleague’s personal life makes a person more memorable than only talking about work.
Ultimately, networking should be fun. Networking experiences that are sincerely enjoyed by all involved will always result in the most useful and lasting relationships.