What is Networking?

How do you know when you are doing it?

How can you use it as a new business development technique?

The word networking is used very freely these days and as a result the real meaning and value of networking can be missed. Some might argue that this does not matter as anything that helps you to meet others is all good. However, it seems to me that if you are going to spend say 10% to 20% of your time networking you really do need to know what you will get back for such a significant investment of time.

Networking has been going on for centuries although those who consider ‘events’ to be the epitome of networking often think it is an invention of the 21st century. While organised events can play a role in networking they are not the complete solution and typically only serve to provide very early introductions. The main problem with events is that most people are strangers to each other so this is only the first step, as you can only effectively network with people who you already know. I have heard this summarised as “know, like, trust” and, as well as being a necessity for effective networking, this formula is an essential foundation upon which to build new business relationships.

A well-documented example of formal networking is the coffee houses of 17th century Britain and perhaps the most famous example is Lloyd’s coffee house which morphed into Lloyd’s of London, the insurance market. The coffee houses were in effect clubs, some even required an entry fee, and the members knew and trusted each other so were willing to transact business together. It could be argued that the same atmosphere is created in a branded networking organisation such as BNI or iiB involving regular meetings with the same attendees; a community. The more randomly organised events, that are so common today, do not have the same organised structure so lack the continuity of the coffee house. On-line networking provides an equally fragile connection where it is impossible to “know” and therefore to “like or trust” the other participants so can be risky unless you can validate their on-line persona.

My brief answers to the original questions;

  • Networking requires one-to-one engagement with people, where you have an established relationship, who might be able to help you or who may have a need for something that you can do for them. I call this relationship reciprocity and if the relationship survives even when there is no specific need then the parties are genuinely in each other’s networks.
  • You know you are doing it when communication is interactive being triggered by both parties, not just one way, and it continues well beyond the first contact or the event.
  • Networking events can deliver a useful early stage in the process of new business development but will rarely be a complete business development solution. Read more on this

So, what is networking?

Let’s take an example; last week I was contacted by someone I had put into a job 5 years ago. He introduced me to someone who was looking to recruit a senior sales person, so I called another person I’ve known for 33 years who I know can do the job.

In another instance last week, I went through the LI contacts of someone I have known for 26 years and identified around 10 people of interest to me to whom he will happily effect introductions.

 That is networking!