When I started my own business back in 2006 one of the first things I was told was that I needed to get out and network. Who me? A meek and mild accountant who barely ever ventured out of the office in corporate life (unless it was to visit another office)? Go out into the wide world and actually talk to…. strangers?
Networking is one of those things that can provoke extreme reactions. It is the old school tie at work. It is a vision of a loud gregarious sales person (it is always a sales person and no I don’t have anything against them). It is schmoozing and glad-handing your way through numerous breakfasts, lunches and evening receptions.
Of course it does not have to be like this and indeed frequently isn’t. At its best it is the building of a string of relationships with people that you may otherwise not come into contact with, sharing ideas and opportunities and genuinely attempting to help move business life forward, even if you do not directly benefit from it.
I think that one of the reasons networking often gets a bad press it that many of the articles on the subject imply that it is primarily for the benefit of the individual. Little seems to be made of how organisations that have skilled networkers within their ranks benefit beyond the commercial returns that result.
I have developed valuable business contacts through networking. But I have also used it as an important tool for self-development. It has increased my business and technical knowledge. It has enabled me to view the business world in a much more rounded way that I would ever have been able to do as a corporate accountant. As regular readers may recall through networking I have even taken part in a competition to race to the top of the Jungfrau in Switzerland.
The business insights that I have gained through networking are valued by my clients and should I go back into corporate life would make me a much better employee than I was when I left.
Sadly too many companies out there just don’t get it. One only has to look at the social media policies industry to realise that it is seen in terms of what it should not be rather than what it can be. We are led to believe that a careless remark on Facebook can cause untold reputational damage to a business. Excessive executive remuneration policies on the other hand…..
Too many organisations are losing out by expecting their staff to keep their noses to the grindstone for every hour they are at work. Letting them out into the outside world to develop their networks can help them think in a different way and pay real dividends. Yes there is a risk but, as any accountant will tell you, you rarely get returns without one.