Putting the “How” in Networking
Victoria Butt, Managing Director, Parity Consulting
This interactive session on networking started off with Victoria asking the audience to voice their challenges around networking. The challenges included fears of networking (and how this could be overcome), understanding the content and topic of discussions, rejection and actually finding the time for networking in our busy lives.
What is networking?
According to Wikipedia, the official meaning of networking is defined as “a socio-economic business activity by which business people and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognise, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures.” However, as Victoria pointed out, networking is so much more than that. It is not only knowledge sharing between peers both in your existing industry as well as different industries, but it is a social exercise and great way to gain some perspective from an external point of view.
Victoria highlighted the importance of networking and the importance of investing your time in not only growing your network, but in having regular touch points with your network and following up with them wherever you can. The benefits of networking include not only the obvious such as possible new opportunities, learning and development, but can also provide the perfect opportunity for you to reiterate your brand message, satisfaction for helping others and the chance to give and receive advice.
Victoria shared an example of a client who had been made redundant out of the blue. This client was a COO of a large company, very well respected, a top performer with over 20 years of experience in his industry. Unfortunately, his role was very much internally facing, which meant that he had very few external networks. When he suddenly found himself without a job and without an external network to approach and lean on for support, he found himself quite lost and lacking confidence despite his experience, reputation and position.
Wanting to take control of the situation he found himself in, he took it upon himself to devise KPI’s and strict guidelines that would help him reach his goal. These included a project plan, learning how to give before receiving to his network, asking for assistance, and staying consistent and on brand with his message. Thanks to these steps he was able to build up a network which has in turn been able to assist him with his ultimate goal.
Victoria then spoke on the framework around networking. Following each of the 8 points in this framework will guide you in successfully networking and ensuring you can structure a plan beforehand.
The 8 steps in the networking framework are:
- Clear & concise
- Follow up and thank you
- Follow up and check in.
Victoria shared some helpful tips on networking successfully. They included:
Be active on LinkedIn and ensure your profile is up to date;
Invest in conferences and your industry’s communities;
Don’t be afraid of asking for help;
Practice giving before receiving;
Know and understand your value and strengths – your elevator pitch must be clear, authentic and on brand; and
Understand your key strengths and selling points.
“Understand 1/3 you will never see again, 1/3 you will not speak to in the short term and 1/3 are supporters and long-term advocates”
As a comparison, Victoria likened networking to dating. The 4 main similarities were:
Chemistry – if there is no chemistry, it may be awkward and conversation may not flow;
Like-minded – finding somebody like-minded to build rapport with;
Industry synergies – this is an advantage as it is a great way to find common ground and relatability;
Enthusiasm – you need somebody to match your energy levels.
A member of the audience shared a great example of how to better understand ways to deliver your elevator pitch. He suggested that your elevator pitch is much like the packaging for a product – the front of the box needs a catchy message to give you a chance to stand out from the crowd, the back needs to show who you are, your strengths and objectives, and finally the side of the box will be where all the small details live.
Career Amplifiers (or ‘sneezers’ as Victoria refers to them) are people who believe in you, understand your strengths and speak highly of you when you aren’t around. Someone who essentially ‘sneezes’ your name, brand and message to their networks. Your career amplifier can be an old boss, direct report, colleague or ex-colleague. It is important that you ensure your ‘sneezers’/career amplifiers have a clear understanding of your role, strengths and career highlights in order for them to be spreading the right message to their networks – it is your job to ensure they have this information.
Your 1st tier sneezers should consist of at least 5 contacts, where your 2nd tier should be no more than 40 contacts.
One of the most common issues around networking is finding a way to normalise it and integrating it into your work week. Victoria suggested some points to stay on top of this which included:
Reframing the definition of networking – see it more as connecting, socialising and future-proofing yourself and your career path;
Get organised – start diarising tasks and keep on top of an activity target. A meeting once a month equates to less than 0.2% of your working week;
Stay positive and confident – believing in yourself is the first step in ensuring others also believe in you and your message;
Find an accountability partner – this can be someone who has the same challenges as you, a mentor or just a colleague or friend who is willing to keep you accountable to your tasks;
Clarity of your “why” – Understand your message and brand and ultimately your “why”.
Victoria suggested that everyone should have at least 3 mentors – each mentor focussing on different areas of development. When identifying a potential mentor, ensure you have a clear and concise reason for approaching them. Understand your development areas, objectives and find a mentor who will challenge and improve you. Keep in mind to give before you receive, keep the content relevant and valuable and always be respectful of their time.
As an example, Victoria shared that when she found herself pregnant with her first child, she immediately reached out to her network to identify women in senior positions with a young child to whom she could reach out to and ask their advice.
“A mentor mentee relationship can be similar to a relationship with a personal trainer, it can last for 3 months or 2 years, however either way it is better to outgrow your mentor than stick with them and see deteriorating results “– Victoria Butt
To finish off, Victoria shared 5 actionable steps everyone can take to improve their understanding of networking and their ability to network:
1. Understand your elevator pitch – this should highlight your strengths and ultimately what you would like your network to know about you;
2. Set Activity targets for yourself – make them achievable and ensure you take the time to action them and follow up;
3. Accountability partner – find someone who will keep you on track and accountable;
4. Identify and engage with your career amplifiers (or sneezers) – you should have at least 5 contacts as 1st tier ‘sneezers’. This could include an old boss, a direct report or an old manager. In your 2nd tier network, you should have no more than 40 contacts;
5. Organised follow up – ensure you have a project plan or system in place to follow up with your network. Ensuring you have a touch point at least once a quarter with your network, whether this is a coffee catch up, a call, or structured meeting – this is key in building and managing your network successfully.
If you have any questions or would like a confidential discussion, please contact Victoria on +61 402 418 326 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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