The Today, Tonight and Tomorrow of Networking

Our guest blogger is businesswoman Hilary Fraser.With her years of experience  she has some great hints on something that can raise anxieties in all of us: networking.

Life’s better when we’re connected! What do we mean by connection?  Social media is a powerful way to keep in touch and raise your profile.  Don’t, however, mistake connections online for the real, human contact that comes with shaking someone’s hand, sharing eye contact, speaking and listening together, in the same place at the same time.

Here’s how to think more strategically about your networking. There are three categories to be aware of and by consciously choosing to develop each kind, you will gain maximum benefit in the short and long term.

1. TODAY
You don’t usually get to choose who you have to work with on your daily projects and tasks. There can be a lot of contacts needed to get things done, all connecting via you in some way. If you view yourself as a facilitator of this de facto network, you can build trust and enhance relationships which will lead to significant business benefits of speed, efficiency, collaboration and product or service quality. Plus you will have more fun doing the job!
Ways to do this include ensuring introductions are always made on conference calls,asking people to share something that’s going on for them at the start of a meeting, or using the phone to talk and build the relationship instead of sending an email.

2. TONIGHT
Find stimulation, creativity, referrals, useful information and personal development from networking with people outside of your day job. What are your interests? Study groups, sports, theatre, school governorships, volunteering – when you connect widely, opening up to new people and new experiences, life gets richer.

One challenge women especially find is that we may need to delegate more to ensure we make time for ‘Tonight’ networking.  Can you re-jig your resources and priorities to claim this investment in yourself?

3. TOMORROW
Take a strategic view.  Build and maintain a network of internal and external contacts who will matter as you progress in your career.  Try to see this network-building through the lens of your future interests, needs, priorities and challenges. It’s about finding supporters, mentors and those who will influence you and/or be influenced by you. It can be hard to know who will be relevant; and it can be a mindset-shift to not see this as ‘politics’ but as an essential aspect of your successful journey.

Finally, some tips for successful networking:
– reciprocity is better when you give before you expect to receive. (It feels good – but remember to ask for something in return before too long)
– personal brand matters, so be consistent and make it easy for people to know who you are
– ease your way into a conversation with small talk but don’t forget to talk about business
– keep it two-way. Do avoid both interrogation and taking excess airtime to talk about yourself
– bring the interaction to an end positively and authentically, e.g. “It’s been very interesting talking to you and now I must move on. Thank you!”

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