According to the dictionary networking can be defined as “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts”.
Over the years, the one thing that I have come to acknowledge as very crucial to the success of any business no matter the size of your business is the power and influence of your networking circle. For me, this was something that bothered me because I am what people call an “Introverted Extrovert”. I can be very extroverted when I’m working in my area of strength and calling but I love my own space, so outside of work- I am an introvert. What this also meant was, I would avoid any social event outside of the work environment or even if it was within the work environment, if it wasn’t me doing what I call “WORK” – please count me out.
As someone that was very good at what they do, promoting me, winning awards and getting bonuses for my technical ability was easy. The truth about the corporate world is, as you go higher and need to be promoted beyond middle management, then the number of positions become smaller and the pool of candidates far outweigh the number of positions.
At that point, it becomes about “WHO YOU KNOW” or in business terms “YOUR NETWORK OF INFLUENCE”. I learnt that the hard way after being passed over for promotions a couple of times. I’m a huge advocate of learning from every failure and disappointment and in my trying to fail forward, I learnt that by isolating myself socially, I had failed to build a network of influence that knew me personally and could vouch for my integrity and not only competence but also who could vouch for my social skills. It takes more than mental capability to become a leader.
This network of influence also is venery key in the business world. As an Entrepreneur, I have learnt that referrals work faster when trying to get a contract or trying to get another business to work with you. Businesses like to work with people they can trust and trace. Traceability in business is built through having a network that people can vouch for. Even Banks in Nigeria when opening business accounts ask you for references.
The way to see a network is, where you can’t be or go, your network can be or go on your behalf, then everyone in your network has a network and everyone in that extended network also has a network. This network effect creates a wider pool of opportunities that every business can access.
I’ve had small businesses ring me up and say – do you know this person or someone that knows this person…they are looking to collaborate with my kind of business but I need someone to do an introduction. Sometimes I say, leave it with me and let me make a few calls.
Collaboration is becoming very crucial to the success of any business and one of the fastest ways to make collaboration work for you is through having a strong network. Networking effect is what has made instagram, Facebook and the likes of LinkedIn successful.
As a small business, sit down and decide what are the businesses or people I need to collaborate with this year to increase my revenue from last year or to scale faster. This year decide not to work harder but work smarter.
There are many ways to network as a small business; a few are listed below;
1. Join your school alumni social network groups or WhatsApp groups
2. Attend networking events for different businesses and different sectors
3. Pay to attend social events, you never know who you might meet.
4. Join social clubs – golf clubs, tennis clubs, gyms e.t.c
5. Attend P.T.A meetings at your children’s school
6. Join network groups on social media, you will be surprised what business relationships you can build and what opportunities are shared on this groups
As a rule, I believe in giving more than I get. In trying to build your network, look for opportunities to help and give as well and not just to take. Nobody likes someone who is only interested in what they can get.
One of the things on my to do list is to network more and look for more opportunities to collaborate. I grew my network of influence by offering my technical capabilities to people I didn’t even know because they were referred to my by my immediate network and most times for free.
But in offering my time, mentoring, advise and technical capabilities for free, I have built a huge network and won and gained many business opportunities that have also yielded financial rewards but my mentees have also been able to tap into a network that would have eluded them.
Let’s make up our minds to succeed by working smarter.