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Who said 99% of networking is useless?

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30th Mar 2015
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Given the importance of networking to the freelancer, Darryl Howes examines the recent debate over its worth and effectiveness in business.

Well, Davos 2015 top networker Rich Stromback did. Or rather, he didn’t. What Stromback actually said was “99% of Davos is information or experience you can get elsewhere, on your own timeframe and in a more comfortable manner. The answer is to be extremely efficient and focus on what is truly essential.”

For a topic that is often uppermost in the minds of L&D freelancers who rely on networking as one source of commissions, the key question must be 'so, how can we increase our networking efficiency and focus?'. Most networking advice majors on the established principles of giving before receiving and not treating networking events as a sales pitch platform. However, we have all experienced the feeling of coming away from an event where, due to time pressure and other calls on our resources, we really should have been elsewhere.

Take aim through LinkedIn

The features and functionality of social media are developing all the time. Without advocating its use as a selling or spamming tool, LinkedIn offers opportunities to identify mutually beneficial contacts in a way that is far superior to the ‘hit and hope’ methods of traditional face-to-face networking. For example, an often overlooked feature of LinkedIn is the ‘Similar’ function.

Starting at the LinkedIn search bar, let’s say that you enter the name of your chosen industry sector, for example ‘utilities’, having first selected the Companies filter within the drop down menu. The search will return a list of companies with the word utilities in the title or within the accompanying descriptive text. Toward the end of each short description will be a link, highlighted by the word ‘Similar’. Choose a target company and hit the link. This will return a more comprehensive list of organisations within the same band as your chosen company, allowing you to expand the options available to you when following through to research individuals within those organisations.

Develop, but don’t sell

The old adage of not selling at networking gatherings is well established. Attempting to sell in this environment marks the person out as pushy, perhaps even desperate. Networking is always a bridge to the development of a business relationship at another time and place if both parties consider there is mutual benefit in doing so. The small talk and parallel understandings that develop in the networking space help smooth the transition. This is also true of online social networks.

LinkedIn is therefore an additional context in which contact can be established, slowly nurtured and moved, if both parties agree, to a more traditional face-to-face meeting. The difference is the investment of a few minutes each day developing your online profile against the time and money implications of physical attendance at events.

The very same principle can be seen in the increasing use of online webinars. For some years, these have operated to complement far-flung conference gatherings, but not (and some would say never) replace them.

Strategic business networking

An eye-catching headline and the misinterpretation of Rich Stromback’s comments spawned a host of follow-up articles declaiming networking’s demise. The truth echoes Twain’s famous line, 'Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated'. Networking, in the good honest sense that business people recognise, is alive and well; perhaps even in the rarefied atmosphere of Davos.

Using the 'Similar' feature of LinkedIn to better effect is just one example of the opportunities available when developing business relationships online. The watchwords remain to be strategic in your approach, with clarity around the aims and objectives.

The growth of social media, and in particular a business-oriented social networking service such as LinkedIn, encourages us to think about things in a different way. Being social doesn’t mean that you can’t also be strategic.

Darryl Howes is a strategic business networking specialist, with a background in commercial value generation and sales relationship management. He speaks, writes and consults on people networking challenges in business. 

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