By Chantelle Smith, Recruitment Specialist, HR Company Solutions
We have all heard that knowledge is power and it’s all about what you know that will ‘get you to the top’ and help you achieve your goals in your career that will then lead to your personal life goals being achieved as well. Well, it’s no longer about what you know, it is all about WHO you know that is going to make the difference in your career and your net worth, and that all depends on how well you build your business network.
The importance of having a truly professional and exceptionally strong business network, is something that cannot be emphasised enough in today’s highly competitive and challenging markets.
Strong professional networks are the key to providing you with opportunities for learning, new collaborative relationships – which are particularly vital in the gig economy – your growth and your exposure in the marketplace. Having a strong network also provides a high degree of credibility.
“In today’s world, people are natural ‘stalkers’ and researchers and, believe me, they will know who you are and what you do faster than you’ve clicked the close button on your browser screen after that last connection request is sent.” The more influential your network is, filled with top decision makers and influencers today, the more likely it is for prospective new clients and partners to be reassured about who you are and your trustworthiness.
When we mention, ‘build your business network’, people automatically assume that you need to get into your car, drive to an Expo happening in the middle of Sandton and spend 2 to 3 days there, talking to people and dropping your business card into a massive fish bowl on an exhibitor’s table, hoping that they’ll notice it and call you later. You also feel that it means you need to drive around business parks, talking into your voice recorder as you say business names along the way, using your phone to quickly snap that truck on the highway that is branded and a billboard you pass, while trying to avoid the traffic police spotting you on your phone.
However, with the technology we have today and the availability of information freely on the web, there is no need to leave your desk to build your business network effectively. This is even more prevalent now as the globe stands together working with the pandemic known as Covid-19, which is not only restricting our daily normal activity, but it’s preventing any forms of these ‘gatherings’ of like-minded people at all, we’re ‘stuck’ at home trying to be as productive as we possibly can, using the time we have wisely.
So, how does one go about building this network that will provide you with the exposure you need to grow both personally and professionally?
It might sound like a tough ask and there are those in the world who are just not confident enough to walk into an Expo and ‘network’, or leave a business card at the Reception desk of a company that would be beneficial in your ‘tribe’ or pick up the phone and cold call someone who may be influential in your circle. There are other ways though.
Where you begin is with your existing network that might be unknown to you – it’s made up of your existing clients and business partners, those people you speak to just about every day, the ones you send emails to every day.
Word of mouth is your best asset in this building of your network because the people you already know and work with, are your best points of referral because they’ve had first-hand dealings with you. “So, when using this line, ensure that you are always professional and use your personal brand to gain trust and momentum in this network. It’s your most powerful weapon.”
Other ways of building your business network involve a combination of activity, using the technology that we have at our disposal and the fact that people are constantly mobile. You can reach anyone at any time these days with the technology we have, and it makes the world a ‘smaller’ place through connectivity.
Use the social platforms we have in LinkedIn and other groups to build your network. “LinkedIn is like Facebook for professionals and businesses.” Build your ‘friends’ network on LinkedIn with like-minded professionals and influencers in your space and market, it builds credibility and trust and shows the world that you take your job seriously too.
Join alumni and other relevant groups. “Find those people (like you hunt for people on Facebook) that you went to school and university with, it’ll extend your reach exponentially.” They’re all working at various companies now in so many sectors, even across the world, and that will help you to gain even more exposure into new markets that you may not have even thought about.
Use LinkedIn and join a variety of groups there too. Consider joining those that are in your industry first and have valuable conversations with professionals in those groups which will broaden your network. This also gives you the power of information – you’ll stay in touch with industry trends and developments, you know the quality of your connections will be excellent and you also gain access to jobs and growth opportunities within these groups of like-minded people.
You don’t always need to be online to build connections – use your social networking to do the same. Use social events to build a network by talking to people, sharing your business cards, and having a “chat” about life in general. Build these new relationships like you would a friendship and treat them the same. “They’ll become your ‘friends’ for life.”
Make sure you constantly enhance your communication and relationship skills. There is always room for improvement, even with those holding top decision-making roles within large companies. Self-development is constant and should never be forgotten about. Work on how you communicate confidently with others, with respect and professionalism while also being able to ‘small-talk’ when you need to, building trust and transparency. “Use your existing relationships to build new ones – never ever forget the ones you already have in order to add new connections.”
Ensure you stay relevant in your field or network. In this light, make sure you are always keeping up to date with the industry trends and developments in your industry. Read industry-related articles and publications, follow industry leaders on LinkedIn and keep an eye out for events and meet-and-greets in your sector that you can attend to expand your network. Also stay relevant by upskilling yourself and continuing your education in your chosen field. “Gaining new, relevant and up-to-date skills, makes you an invaluable asset to your current company but also to those in your network – it drives others to connect with you when you share valuable insights and information.”
Have goals when you’re building your business network and don’t ever be afraid to stipulate what you want. Be bold when you’re meeting people. “When I network, it’s easy to boost someone’s ego by saying that I’d love to partner with a company with a great brand and reputation, good enough for top talent to want to work for and I’d like to be that provider of top talent to them. When you talk to people’s egos and boost their confidence, you’ll see that it gets you a lot closer to a top network than you think. Be honest, people appreciate that.”
Lastly, keep in touch with your network, existing and new, constantly. “Don’t ever just “disappear” or “fall off the radar” in your network and constantly follow-up and engage in conversations.” Even if it’s just a check-in to say hell and see how they’re doing, wishing them a happy birthday or congratulating them on a working anniversary. Stay in touch.
Building your business network is one of the most important tools in your personal and professional development and it’ll build your confidence through enhancing your personal branding too. Use it, constantly and leverage off those you know.