Most people I meet on the networking circuit clearly know the power of networking, understanding that people buy from people they like, and that the know-like-trust continuum works in a business relationship as well as it does in any social relationship.
After all that is why everyone is there, isn’t it? Well, maybe not. I meet a surprising number of people who admit very quickly that they don’t like networking, say they don’t get results from it, and think it’s easy for ‘people like you’!
Let’s be clear, it’s nice that people think it’s easy for me. But truly it isn’t. Networking was one of the few things I dreaded when I first set up my own business. I am not a natural at walking into a room full of strangers and finding someone to talk to, then moving on and finding someone new. I am certainly not a natural at self-promotion.
Having spent my entire career ensuring everything I did would help the Chairman or Chief Executive I supported be seen in the best possible light, it never occurred to me to promote myself in anyway.
However I now realise that what I was doing all along was networking, without knowing it, and out of that I was trusted, both as an individual and as a professional person.
I would be the smiling, welcoming face of the Executive Office, making small talk with visiting Executives, Government officials and Company staff, making all-comers welcome in our environment, quite often having paved the way by building a great telephone or email relationship with their own team in advance. I was also the one building relationships with suppliers who would always be pleased to support our requests, sometimes last minute, because they knew us and liked us. It was also important that we were trusted – I made sure that we did what we said we were going to do, and we did it when we said we were going to do it.
So when thinking about networking for my own business, I was liberated from my fears when I realised that once again, it isn’t all about me, and it certainly isn’t about self-promotion and selling.
It is about what I have been doing naturally all my working life – smiling at people, being genuinely interested in what they have to say, and learning about what is important to them so that there is already an open dialogue when I meet them the next time. It is about getting to know them, and letting them get to know me.
Networking continues to be a little daunting, but less so as time goes on. I see the know-like-trust continuum working in practice, sometimes it happens immediately, but generally it is a slow burn.
I have both received and passed business to people I have met at networking events. And, just as importantly, I have met lots of very supportive people offering learnings from their own experience and sharing knowledge in collaborative and trusted relationships initiated at networking events.