Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Networking Resolutions

This article originally appeared in The National Networker.

New Year has come and gone and all around the World talk inevitably turns to resolutions. Are you looking towards a slimmer you? Giving up smoking? Perhaps you have decided to dedicate more time to others.

It’s also a good time to sit back and review your networking. Is your current activity working for you? Are you in the right networks, getting the referrals you want for your business?

Take the time to check you are on the right track. Even the top networkers do it. I spoke to some of the UK’s leading networking experts and heads of networks to find out what they expect to happen in networking in 2009 and their own plans for the New Year.

As you might expect, the global economic climate featured heavily in their responses. It is commonly agreed on both sides of the Atlantic that many businesses will find the next twelve months very challenging and that networking is going to play a vital role in helping us to get through the trials and tribulations ahead.

Maggie Berry, Director of Women in Technology encapsulated the mood. “I think (or at least I hope) that people will be more open to getting themselves out there and networking face to face, to maintain and build up contacts during what is probably going to be a tough 2009.”

The need to be proactive and forge new relationships seems to be the key. Roy Sheppard, author of ‘Rapid Result Referrals’ and ‘Meet, Greet and Prosper’, said, “As the economy continues to toughen, maintaining and attracting new business will become more of a challenge for most companies.

“The best-connected people and organisations will be those most able to harvest those opportunities that will exist. Their investment in relationship building will bear fruit. I think we will see well-connected people and companies working far more collaboratively than ever before.

A positive and collaborative approach is the key for Sheppard. “Their mindset will be 'We're all in this together, so let's look out for each other'. More and more people will rely on referrals.”

Jackie Groundsell of women’s business network 1230 shares the belief that working with others is the key. “For everyone in business 2009 will certainly be an interesting and challenging time”, said Jackie.

“Many more people will be working remotely which can bring isolation and loneliness. Those who resolve to invest time in building and developing relationships with like-minded individuals will reap the benefits and still find plenty of opportunities to do business.”

With a large number of people facing redundancy in the New Year and unemployment levels set to reach their highest point for many years, expect to see more people set up in business on their own. This, according to Jackie, is going to make networking an even more vital tool. “Business will become more competitive and the rewards will be greater for those who share and work with others.”

Penny Power, co-founder of online network Ecademy, also feels that businesses are going to need to work much more closely together in order to thrive. Penny continued to highlight the importance of networks and referrals. “I feel that networking will be about hunting in packs, not as lone ‘cave men’”, said Penny.

“Collaboration will be the theme of many good networkers, looking for opportunities that feed a group of people not just themselves. If you exist in a good network, this will bring many opportunities your way, providing you do the same for others. Finding people in your network that share the same client base but deliver different solutions will ensure you uncover opportunities when they crop up.”

It’s not just for referrals that businesses need to be looking for opportunities to work together. According to Mike Roe, CEO of Chief Executive Groups Footdown, “At times like this people still need people, whether for critical information on how to tackle key issues, a bit of inspiration from time to time, or some relief from the isolation that being the ‘boss’ can create.

“Being in touch with other like minded people, or being challenged and stretched by people who might think in different ways will be as important this coming year as any year that has gone before.”

So where will people go to network? As I discussed in last month’s column, there are a number of challenges facing physical face-to-face networks, with a number of people looking to the benefits provided in cyberspace.

Brian Chernett, Chairman of the Academy for Chief Executives believes "’on line reputation’ will be key and a much better use of the internet, blogs and social networks such as Facebook will become the norm for all levels."

Author of “I Hate Networking” and networking skills expert Will Kintish sees the trend towards online networks continuing. “I think people in networking clubs who get very little from them (because they don’t understand the guidelines and principles) will give their membership up. The Kintish team will be spending a minimum of two hours every day searching Linkedin.

“When you understand how to use it, it is your greatest online networking friend ever.
In business there are two groups of people:

1 People we know like and trust
2 People who are targets we’d like to meet who know group 1.
“Ask Group 1 to introduce you to Group 2. They will do it readily. Linkedin is the tool to find both groups.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Penny Power also sees a positive future for online networks. “I am being told by many that offline networking is becoming increasingly tough for them to get to, going out the door costs money and we are now seeing huge growth in membership and traffic on Ecademy as a result.

“My resolution for 2009 is to find ways of delivering more knowledge over the internet using webinar and online conferencing tools to bring large groups together across the world online and teach them the power of the online tools and being part of an online community. This reduces the costs for people and increases the opportunity for learning and sharing.”

For others, relationship building forms the core of many top networkers’ new year resolutions. Not content to sit on their laurels and congratulate themselves on the networks they have already developed, they are focusing on how they can do better, both by extending their networks but also, importantly, deepening existing relationships.

Dave Clarke, CEO of networking lunch group NRG and author of the Business Networking Blog has resolved to focus on following up and developing existing relationships, while Roy Sheppard is promising to get more organized and finally invest in a business card scanner. My resolution is similar, involving using my scanner and finally getting a regular e-zine out to keep in touch with my growing network, along with more frequent calls to people I haven’t spoken to in a while.

Maggie Berry, meanwhile, intends to meet a more diverse group of people. “Because of what I do, I go to lots of women related events. This year I'd like to broaden the type of event that I attend - thereby pushing my own boundaries but hopefully meeting lots of interesting people along the way!”

Whatever you are doing at the moment, there’s no doubt that additional focus will lead to improvements. With tough economic times ahead of us, the consensus is that networks will become increasingly important, whether online or off. The New Year is a time for all of us to review what has worked for us so far, look at new opportunities and change our behaviour accordingly.

After all, if networking is working well for you at the moment, what would life look like if it suddenly got better?

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