Monday, 8 November 2010

Lessons I’ve Learnt 2 - Networking, Is It Worth It?

Every time I turn on my computer I seem to be bombarded with the messages that I need to Network, join a Forum or Group, attend Meetings; and these will somehow magically increase my sales and overall general profitability.

Not only does Networking not work that way but if I joined every Group and attended every Meeting I would never have time to make anything.

Now I’m not going to list steps on how to benefit from a Network Meeting. There are heaps of sites and books  that do that already.What they don’t do is show you how to evaluate if the group is working for you.

Are all Networks created equal? Of course not!  What do you hope to gain from joining a group? Is it to be surrounded by likeminded people, do you want business contacts, a mentor, learning opportunities, social interaction? You need to sit down and identify why you are considering joining the group.  Don’t be afraid to ask the group how they will meet your expectations. Can they meet your expectations?

If the WAHM group that you are considering joining for learning opportunities doesn’t offer it then you may be better off joining the local Rotary group. Once you have done all this there are still no guarantees that group will be right for you. How do you know if they are a good fit for you, if you have outgrown them or simply no longer have the time?

Here is what I have learned. In my previous working life I was required to attend countless hours of Networking Meetings to meet our funding requirements. Needless to say I found most to be nothing more than opportunity to have coffee and cake and whinge about how tough we had it. I like cake as much of the next person but when I found myself valuing a meeting based on the menu I knew something had to change.
After every meeting I started asking myself one question. What did I learn or gain from today’s meeting? If the answer was ‘nothing’ three times in a row I stopped attending. Simple.

In my case it was never that simple. Remember I said that attendance was often required  to meet funding? I had to justify my non attendance to my Boss and the Funding Bodies. Showing them I had asked and answered this question was all the evidence I needed. My days were no longer filled with endless pointless meetings; only meetings that provided  measurable outcomes for my clients, staff and myself.

I’m not advocating that you stop Networking. Just that you start to be a little selective. The benefits of Networking should be measurable in more than how delicious the coffee and cake was.


Willy Wonky said...

Networking has worked for me, but here's the thing. I wasn't setting out to network, per se. I just wanted to make friends.

I was a swimming journalist for 20 years and magazine editor for ten. All the connections I made by participating in masters swim meets led to a network of thousands of people I could contact regarding contributions to the magazine. The development of this network wasn't a conscious effort. I had never attended a networking meeting or conference and didn't really even realize I was networking. Maybe I wasn't in the purest sense of the word.

Today, in the world of quilts and quilt history, I've already gained some very significant opportunities by taking the same approach - just by making friends. I still haven't attended any networking conferences or any of that. For me, networking is more about meeting people, learning what they do, forming bonds, and knowing where to find these folks whenever there's something I feel would interest them.

One side note. In my situation, one of the foundations for the network was a lot of volunteer work. I gave and gave and gave and gave. When it was time to call on others, they remembered me giving and gave back.

Sorry to ramble, but it seems a less concerted effort toward networking, showing genuine interest in other people around me and a true willingness to help them is what made networking work for me.

Bill Volckening
aka Willy Wonky

Trish Goodfield said...

I couldn't agree more Bill, your approach was to be a vital part of your community. I applaud this approach. I guess I was talking more about the 'what's in for me' type of newtorking, the formal part that seems to have become an intregral part of business.

I hope our comments will start people thinking about the why.

Willy Wonky said...

I think we're on the same wavelength here. It's no fun to go to those "what's in it for me" conferences and conventions. Those events, in my opinion, are designed more for people who don't do as good a job in their careers as they could. If the organizers of those networking events really wanted to teach their attendees something, it would be: have fun, do the best you can do, and there would be no need for a concerted effort toward networking. It just develops naturally for those who like what they do and do their very best.

Thea said...

Networking has worked for me too and the successful way to network is to build relationships. This doesn't happen after just one meeting. Being part of the blogging community is also networking but again, you have to be an active member and build those relationships. It's all good. x