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Simon Phillips on Networking

6th November 2014 | Simon Phillips

We speak to the author of The Complete Guide to Professional Networking about online and offline networks, finding your networking style, and why never to 'work a room.'

How do you feel the Internet has transformed networking?

All of the experts that I interviewed concluded that networking is all about relationships. The web has transformed networking by speeding up the whole relationship building process, and maintaining established relationships has been transformed as all of the main tools (Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn) make the process of keeping in touch effortless.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start building their online networks from scratch?

Start with the people you know and let the tools help you grow your networks organically. Tools like Facebook and LinkedIn, in particular, suggest people you may know from the basic information you submit. Thereafter, it all comes down to your choice of the type of network you are interested in building – will it be a Closed network, tightly controlled with rigid criteria, or will you choose to create an Open network, allowing anyone to connect and begin a relationship with you?

In the book, you write about different 'networking styles.' How would someone find out what their networking style is?

Your preferred networking style is determined by your response to the following two questions:

Are you an Extrovert or an Introvert?

Are you Task or People-focused?

Answering these questions will certainly help you understand why you act in a particular way when making new connections or building relationships. However, the key is to determine the style of the people in your network so that you can build relationships more smoothly. An extrovert, for example, will not appreciate a long-winded introduction and someone who is very people focused is less interested in the specification of your product than the benefits it will provide for the people in their life.

Are there any online networks where you feel the potential hasn't been fully tapped?

Most online tools are underused in terms of their potential to help you build your networks. The one that appears to be misunderstood the most, though, is Twitter. As I say in the book, the often inane nature of the information on Twitter, that puts most people off, is precisely its strength. People do reveal a lot about their preferences, their interests and their passions and these can give you lots of clues as to how to progress your professional relationships. Also, the opportunity to retweet and save tweets in your favourites file means that you can not only support your network with their projects but you can also recall that information instantly in the future when making referrals and recommendations.

You advise 'never work the room.' What do you mean by that?

‘Working the room,’ is a phrase that has been used over the years to suggest an almost routine approach to the process of building relationships with individuals at a networking event. However, the outcome is usually unsatisfactory as the focus tends to be on the transactional aspects of the conversation completed with the exchanging of business cards. When I attended my first networking events I, like many others, saw the card exchange as ‘the work’ and diligently went about acquiring as many as possible. However, I quickly realised that I wasn’t using many of the cards and they just piled up on my desk. These days, the cards stay in my pocket (if I have any at all) and I focus on building my network, one relationship at a time. The ‘work’ now is seeing who I can help.

How might networking save us time?

Working effectively is all about utilising leverage. We leverage telecommunications to enable conversations, we leverage transport to speed up connections, and we leverage networks to identify, establish and build great relationships. With the advent of email and online networking tools, we have the opportunity to do all of that even quicker and, I would argue, more effectively.

What would be your pointers on networking in your workplace?

The number one recommendation is to be proactive. Get up out of your seat and meet people in their space. The least effective thing you can do is sit at your desk and hope that people will approach you – as Ivan Misner (founder of BNI) says, it’s not called “net-sitting”. Walking around your organisation will enable you to bump into people and you will get to see how the business really works into the bargain.

Once you have connected, find excuses to have 2-minute conversations with a variety of people across the organisation – don’t be too choosy, you really don’t know who the hidden gems are; in fact, the wider your network the better as your perceived (and real) value increases the more connections you can make. Very quickly you can differentiate yourself from your colleagues and become the go-to person when it comes to knowing how to get things done and with whom!

How would you advise people to make the most of their networks, particularly if they don't currently feel that their networks are working for them?

It is a mistake to value your network purely on what it is doing for you. The more value you can add to your existing network, the bigger it will grow and the more reciprocation you will enjoy. Everyone in your existing network knows several hundred people and many of them would be delighted to introduce you if they feel that you are a person that adds value to their lives.

How would you advise people to make use of their 'inner circle'?

Your “inner circle” is your business support network, it is made up of people that you trust completely, people that will tell you the truth and have your best interests at heart. Not surprisingly then, the best use of your inner circle is as a test group for your ideas, a sounding board for your strategies and plans and as individual advisors. They are also the most likely to give you the best advice when you face a setback, often mixing support with a healthy dose of tough love! If this sounds like a useful group to have around you, then ask yourself, “Who can I serve in this way?”

Can success in networking be measured, and how would you advise people on getting started?

Einstein once said, ‘Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted.’ It is a perfect operating principle for networking. The things that count in networking are the acts of kindness you pass through your network, the referrals you can make for others and the difference you can make. You’ll notice that there is no mention of the amount of business you can generate or the number of business cards you can collect. Keep track of your expenses. Expenses can be offset against tax but they also remind you that networking is not free, it costs time and money but the return on your investment is relationships that will sustain you for a lifetime!

Simon Phillips is an author, trainer and career mentor; an expert in running his own networks and in teaching other people how to network. Most recently, he is the author of The Complete Guide to Professional Networking: The Secrets of Online and Offline Success (Kogan Page, August 2014). 

For more information, follow @1simonphillips and the hashtag #networkingnotworking on Twitter, and NetworkingNotWorking on Facebook.