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Networking: How to collect, connect and share the dots

Nov 2022

‘Collecting the dots, connecting the dots and then sharing those dots with people around you… this is how a creative human works’ (Amanda Palmer, ND)

What is networking?

Networking is simply the broadening of your social environment, and a proven way to grow and progress your professional and social life.  It’s about making more contacts and friends, helping people where you can, and often receiving help yourself, even when you haven’t asked for it. Working and socialising in networks is how the World keeps spinning. This article digs into the subject of networking, debunks some common myths and hopefully acts as a springboard for you to learn some networking skills and tips.

So what’s the problem?

Networking is one of those things that can seem like a ‘chore’ - a task that we HAVE to do to progress our career.  There’s often apprehension because it usually involves pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones or chartering unfamiliar territory. This makes sense of course.  Humans generally don’t like being outside of our safe spaces, we prefer familiarity and routines, to feel safe.

Is confidence the key to successful networking?

Yes.  But only through authenticity. Let us explain. Networking for business purposes often involves surface level conversations that can feel a little forced or unnatural.  People try to put on their best face when networking, to show the most polished versions of themselves.  And that can lead to a departure of one’s real self. The irony is that people who meet you actually prefer to meet the real you, the authentic you, without the polish and veneer. So tip number one for networking is to try to be as close to the real you as possible.  Practice and build up as much confidence in the real you before you enter a business or social event.  You’ll enjoy the situation more and feel you are being true to yourself.  Authenticity is the key to confidence.

Push your comfort zone a little

Not much happens in life sitting in a comfortable armchair.  Humans are programmed to learn and adapt, we evolve that way.  So the best way to grow and progress is to put yourself in new situations, to listen to new information and to try new things. So tip number two is to develop a positive attitude to networking.  What’s to lose? Pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, to make connections that we might otherwise not have made and to allow ourselves to develop further - are all components of growth and networking success. A bit like panning for gold; there might be a nugget in there somewhere, but it’s your job to sift through and find it.

How do we find time to network?

And tip number three, start small, and build up over time. Don’t make networking bigger than it needs to be. It’s easier than you think.  Networking can happen on the train, at the water cooler, at a social event, and yes, at a formal business networking event.  Think of it simply as making a contact or friend, who you might be able to help or receive help from in the future.  Or as Amanda Palmer says, collect some dots, join them up and share them out. So the message is: network whenever you can, in small chunks, that will build up your network gradually over time.  There’s no rush.

Networking at Collaborate

Here at Collaborate; we attract freelancers, start-ups and established businesses alike, all looking for a flexible work space with a friendly atmosphere. So let’s take a look at what networking really happens here, in real life.  Are we just Collaborate by name, or Collaborate by nature? We’ve observed a wide range of people over the years, all with different personality types, interests and attitudes.  We’ve definitely noticed that members who are more relaxed, conversational and interested in those around them, have in turn benefited most from the experience.  And yes, there has been a wealth of collaborative projects spawned, friendships made and even one or two romances.  Conversely, other members have passed through without much interest in the resources and benefits around them, and are barely remembered. Could being in a coworking office space enrich your networking experience?  The answer is: it’s up to you! 

Networking in a post-Covid World

The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed networking as we know it with events, conferences and workshops moving into virtual spaces.  We’ve had to adjust to newer technologies (hello Zoom!) and get used to conversations behind a screen, judging body language and facial cues online. And many of these changes are likely to stick around for some time too.  A BBC poll with 50 of the UK's biggest employers showed that they ‘do not plan to bring staff back to the office full-time’. (BBC, 2021)
‘What is here to stay, what we should have learned from the pandemic, is to be a more effective networker - send shorter messages, have more impactful conversations within the time limit, learn to start and end on time, be respectful of a person’s time’.
(Dr. Roshni Rao, Johns Hopkins University, 2021) Virtual networking has broken down many geographical barriers and therefore expanded opportunities.  Your networking scope may be much wider nowadays compared with if you physically attended events in person.  Opportunities can be global at the click of a button (and with a decent WiFi connection!)

Some final tips to consider…

  1. Ask people about themselves and practise active listening
In an unfamiliar setting, people will default to familiar territory (namely, themself!)  Showing a genuine interest will say a lot about the kind of person you are.  Encouraging the other party to openly talk about themselves will allow you to pick up on strands to spark the next bit of conversation from. Which is why active listening is really important.  Asking questions is a great way to show that you’re keenly listening.  As is paraphrasing bits of conversation back to them.  It’s the foundation for meaningful and productive business relationships to be built upon.  So have your listening ears ready!
  1. Have a clear goal in mind
In the context of networking, it’s important to be as direct as possible and to ask for what you want.  Therefore, having a goal in mind can be really beneficial.  Remember that people are generally time poor and conversations might be succinct. It’s a bit like the concept of the Elevator Pitch - imagine you get into a lift on the ground floor and the ‘journey’ takes less than 45 seconds to get to your ‘destination’ - what do you need to say?  Have it prepared - you can always add to this if conversation flows and dialogue opens up.
  1. Don’t get ‘stuck’
There is an art to circulating and not getting trapped in corners. If you recognise that a conversation isn’t being productive or that you’re chatting to someone who can’t support you with the goals you’ve come set to achieve, you need to find the confidence to practise exiting gracefully and politely. Asking to be kept in the loop at a later stage is a polite way of saying ‘I’m interested but not right now’ or asking if other people are attending gives the impression that you’re here to build your network.  Perhaps introduce the person you’re talking to, to other people you know, to keep them moving also. Don’t feel stuck - keep it professional, polite and productive.

How to get the ball rolling with your networking journey…

A friendly introduction goes a long way.  If you’re relatively new to networking, it can feel daunting the first few times you ‘put yourself out there’.  It’s important to remember that networking can be a bit of a slow burn (not always!) but sometimes it’s a case of having to attend multiple events to get the leads you want. The caveat to that, of course, is that sometimes you can talk to one person who in turn can open the door to multiple opportunities for you (lucky you!)  But don’t feel discouraged if this doesn’t happen overnight… keep chugging away.  It may take a little time to build trust and credibility.

Further reading - Some book recommendations for you

Taking the Work out of Networking’ Karen Wickre, 2018 ‘The Unnatural Networker’ Charlie Lawson, 2014 ‘Business Networking - The Survival Guide: How to Make Networking Less about Stress and More about Success’  Will Kintish 2014

This article was brought to you by Collaborate as part of our Better Working series. Collaborate is an independent business centre in central Woking, offering Serviced Offices, Coworking Desks, Meeting Rooms and Virtual Office services. If you’d like to provide some feedback or get in touch, feel free to Contact us.