Most people know that networking is an important business skill but most people avoid and dislike it.  That’s because most people fail to understand what networking is all about. Only network with people you like. Networking depends on reciprocity.

Networking success depends on reciprocity – it works because you are willing and able to trade or reciprocate favours. You’re more likely to get help with a problem from a colleague at work if you have helped him or her out in the past. The payback may not be immediate but is likely to be proportional to the help you give.

The Good Samaritan principal applies to networking. It’s about adding value, helping people in your network with no expectation of anything in return. Networking well is hard work with no certainty of reward. In fact you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a princess.

If you create value for others, your social capital increases – you empower yourself through connecting and giving.

In business terms your network is made up of four main categories of people – colleagues, clients, suppliers, professional peers. When you are job hunting you need a minimum of 250 people in your network. You should aim for an overall network of 350 people who constantly feed information through to you and to whom you respond with information that is useful to them.

If you’re not sure about networking, bear in mind:
You’ve probably already used networking skills
There are many established networks that you can use
Most people are flattered to be approached for advice
Other people do it so if you don’t you’ll lose out to those who do!
Many people establish successful careers through networking
You can ask politely for help and they can always say no
 it is just a way of identifying opportunities

So what makes a good networker?
Good networkers are easily accessible and friendly. They smile and are welcoming however or whenever you meet them. They are responsive and quick to return calls and emails. Good networkers follow up and they don’t look for rewards.

Good networkers trade information and offer advice and expertise, the sort of information that is usually something you have not already thought of. They give you leads and they introduce you to their contacts because they take pleasure in being a conduit. It’s a bit like a marriage broker, they like being people to get together. They like to see others benefit from what they have done.

Love it or hate it networking is a sure way of increasing your access to new employment opportunities. Dale Carnegie 71 years ago in his book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ set the scene for the importance of developing and maintaining relationships for mutual benefit throughout all stages of career development.

And it’s not just about professional help, help where you can. It could be anything from discount deals, good restaurants, reliable plumbers as well trading information about jobs and potential roles.

So create time to network inside and outside of your organisation. Give it at least two hours a week, one networking meeting inside and one outside and typically do that at lunch or over coffee. And remember when you are meeting people you are collecting data which you need to record systematically as you won’t be able to recall those all important personal details otherwise. Build a CRM database. People feel valued if you can recall something about them which is important to them e.g wife’s name, occupation, something special about their children etc. It makes the feel important, as if they matter to you.

The idea of networking is to approach people you know or who are known to people you know, for help and advice. Every time you make a new helpful contact you then tap into their network and get introductions to a new range of contacts. Gradually you build up a large list of people who can help you.

Network, network, network. Effective networking requires time, effort, organisation and a certain amount of courage. People who are really successful at networking are well connected, both inside and outside the organisation. The people skills you develop through networking are essential as you move into more senior positions and will give you a competitive advantage over the course of your career.

But share, don’t be a bore. A lot of people are one-way networkers. Don’t be a user, who only makes contact when you need something from someone. The key to good networking is doing things for others. That way you’ll be in credit when you need an introduction or information.

Michael Moran
CEO, 10Eighty