Monday, May 11, 2009

A Career in Networking....10 Years On

Today sees me celebrating a landmark anniversary. On May 11th 1999 I started a new life, having left my previous job to become a freelance writer. To pay the bills while I found some writing assignments I took up a part-time role with the newly-formed Business Referral Exchange.

Ten years, two books, several magazine columns and a blog later, I never did make it as a freelance writer!

The last decade has seen a huge growth in the popularity of networking. We have moved from a time when most people had never heard of the concept and those who did went to the few events available armed with stacks of business cards and the intention of signing up at least five new customers on the night; to a culture where relationship-building is the order of the day and where you can network 24 hours a day, online on thousands of websites or face to face at breakfast, lunch or dinner.

As I write this, one group of networkers have gone abroad for a one week retreat....things really have moved on.

There is still a long way to go though. People still, on the whole, treat networking as an afterthought, attending meetings and joining groups based on invitations and not on strategic thinking. Far too many businesses walk away from networking because it hasn't delivered results, despite never having identified what those results should look like.

I expect to see more tremendous changes over the next decade. and hope that one of those changes is the recognition of networking as a serious business tool that is built into the marketing strategies and development plans of businesses of all sizes.

How long have you been networking and how important a role does it play in your business?

What changes do you expect to see over the next ten years?


  1. Congrats Andy. ten years in any field of activity is worthy of celebrating.

    Looking back I started networking (largely with accountants, lawyers, IFAs and bankers) in the mid 1990s. This was part and parcel of my responsibilities when I was a partner in a large professional firm.

    More recently I only started networking with a wider range of business people when I went freelance 3 years ago.

    I still spend a fair amount of time with accountants, lawyers, financial advisers and bankers but I really enjoy the broader range of people I meet when networking now. And over time I have become an effective advocate for many of them and them for me.

  2. Well done Andy. I can understand how it happened.

    I got seriously involved in networking under pressure from my wife, Tania, back in 2004. I have to admit I was rather apprehensive to begin with, having had one bad experience a few years previous.

    It was also through Business Referral Exchange that I learnt to enjoy networking, and, indeed, through meeting and learning with yourself, Andy.

    That was 5 years ago now, and I am more active than ever on the networking front, both face-to-face and online. It is the only form of marketing that I do, and I suggest that over 80% of all my new business come from networking of one kind or another.

    For anyone not experienced with networking, just remember, it takes time. Too many people expect miracles after one or two meetings. For me it took 6 months before I received my first profitable referral, but since then, I receive numerous referrals every week.

  3. The big culture change from hunting for transactions to long term relationship building is still taking place. Outside of the focused business networking groups much of the 'training' still talks about 'working the room' and identifying prospects. That is not relationship building in my book. As traditional forms of Direct Sales & Marketing get less effective business people will need to get much more serious about how and why they Network.

  4. Congratulations Andy on the 10 years. Would be fascinating to know how many introductions you've made in that time! And if only you could then tabulate how many of those introductions came to fruition in terms of partnerships, deals, peer group friendships and trusted confidantes.

    You're absolutely right that the nature of networking has changed in the last decade. The opportunities to meet new people have increased 10-fold too, making selection of the right events evermore important. As a more recent trend what are your thoughts on speed networking?

  5. Thanks for your comments.

    In answer to Ian's question, I'm not a tremendous advocate of speed networking. It tends to go against the networking grain.....patience and relationship building seem to go out of the window.

    It works as an ice breaker at a larger event but not as a networking event on its own. Interestingly, the lowest rate of follow-up I've experienced has come after speed networking events.