‘Network’ or ‘networking’ has to be among the biggest buzz words in modern business… everyone is talking about it, doing it, exhorting you to do it. But what is a NETWORK really?
The Digital definition refers to computers… literally how machines are connected together in a net, or a mutually accessible network. It’s about connectivity, information sharing and resource sharing or enhancement.
The Business definition follows quite logically on from this… to network is to establish a series of connections and relationships with people in business. The problems start when people tend to focus on the digital definitions: actually connecting, meeting people etc. and forget about the business definition which includes the idea of RELATIONSHIP. In other words, just making a LinkedIn hook-up is not enough to claim someone as in your network… they are in your Social media network… but you have no relationship with them… you can’t really just ask their advice, input or opinions on things… that takes more work.
It has never been easier to get connected to people. The advent of the internet and more specifically social media has assured this. Business behaviour trends have also changed to match the greater flexibility that social media brings and it really is easy to at least contact and reach out to very highly respected people and important information.
The flip side is that, as it has become easier to GET connected, it is harder and harder to remain so and to build any meaningful relationship out of that connection. Many people are simply so busy with the superficial process of connecting that they have no time left for relationship building. –
As an entrepreneur, this is something that you cannot allow to happen. YOUR relationships are really important and you need to spend time and effort on building them.
Well, someone who has a job has a network of supporting functions around them that often they are not even aware of: finance, accounting, marketing, HR etc. etc. As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to do all of that yourself (as well as your business) or you have to establish a network of people who you work with to get those things done.
Less practically, but equally as important is that, as an entrepreneur, you have to be focussed on what you want and how you aim to achieve it. If you have ambitions of any size it quickly becomes apparent that you cannot do everything on your own. You can try, but you will fail.
In order to network effectively, you need to also come with offerings, not just queries and needs. It is a TWO WAY street. You can’t just rely on others to come with answers, you need to bring something to the table… this requires a degree of transparency that sometimes is uncomfortable.
Be aware of the limitations of your network. It is all too easy to create a vast web of like-minded, similarly skilled professionals. But what use is that? You need be aware of confirmation bias in our network… if everyone does similar things to you and thinks a similar way to you, everything you propose will be agreed to… which leads to no challenges, no growth. Make sure you get outside your box… if you already have all the skills, why do you need more people who have the same skills? No, you need back up, diversity.
While we’re talking about limitations, beware of the automatic filtering social media. Because advertising now drives social media, the algorithms are mostly going to serve you more of what you already like, have already looked for. Like-minded people, similar services. As an entrepreneur, you need to experience more of the world than that. You have to actively LOOK for it. Social media is only ever going to serve you a passive diet of what you already know.
So, if you’re networking, be sure to leave home sometimes and go to the other side of town.
Make an effort to attend events outside of your industry
Become aware of the limits of your existing network, knowledge business practice and inspirations.
It’s a big world out there, get out and explore it.