The joys of networking?


How many emails have you had from Linked-In, today, asking you to join a group, attend a ‘seminar with the opportunity to network’ or link up with someone you’ve never heard of?

It can be a bit overkill, sometimes, all this networking malarkey.

That’s not to say it’s a bad thing – but the secret is choosing your networks carefully – and not being lured into a numbers game.

As a freelancer, networking is pretty important to me in getting new business leads.

I’ve done it all;  highly business-like networking, through organisations like Business Networking International (BNI), Women-only groups like Athena, local networking groups, on-line networking groups, going to networking events organised via Linked-In – oh yes, I’ve earned my stripes.

For six months I got up at 5am every Wednesday, trooped off to school (it felt a bit like that) and stood up to do my sixty seconds pitch.  After a while I was lucky enough to do four minutes, and then ten – but it still didn’t get me any business.

I began to be totally demoralised. “I’m a communicator”, I told myself “It’s what I do! So why does no-one seem to understand it, let alone give me any referrals?”

“You have to wait till you’ve been here a year”, I was told “Then people know you and feel confident in referring you.”

I felt like my membership fee had been cast to the four winds, “A whole year?”, I worried;  and yet I was constantly berated for not passing on referrals to the same people who had to wait a year to get to know me.  I didn’t know them from Adam, either. Funny that.

I learnt a lot from that particular experience, though:-

1. If you’re going to network effectively you need to be totally clear on what your offer is – and what it’s not – and be able to articulate it to people who don’t know your particular field, but might need your expertise

2. Rehearsing your ‘pitch’ every now and again, and trying it out on other people, keeps you fresh and on the ball whenever you meet new contacts and potential clients

3. It doesn’t always pay to join a networking group where only one person from each discipline is ‘allowed’ to join.  I’ve got some of my best leads from other marketers and marketing communications specialists, because they’re more likely to meet the people you’re targeting and might not always have the capacity to take on a job themselves. It’s good to return the favour though as, to coin a popular networking phrase, “Givers gain”.

4. If you join a group where money and targets are the central focus of the agenda then it’s likely that it’s going to be more about the money and the targets than the relationships. If that’s not for you, head for the hills.

I’m not dismissing networking as a concept. It can be very effective and I know some people (you know who you are) who are absolutely fantastic at it – but it’s only one part of the way you promote your business and can be immensely time consuming.

The best advice I’ve ever got about networking, from John Simmons, brand developer, writer, trainer and extremely well-connected man, has seen me right in many a networking situation:-

‘If you don’t feel comfortable with someone; like you couldn’t be friends with them, or have a good, old chat; the chances are you won’t be comfortable doing business with them’.

Wise words and something I’ve thought a lot about lately.

That’s why I’m off to get all my connections together for a networking ‘summit’.

After all, ‘Givers gain’.


About Philippa

Philippa Cowley-Thwaites is a no-nonsense South Londoner with a passion for communications. Since graduating in English from London University in 1983 she has established herself as an expert communicator for a variety of brands in the private, public and voluntary sector with great success – she’s one of the best business writers in the business.

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