The hows and whys of networking

Posted on 14 February 2011

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Over the next three weeks I have about 20 meet-up-and-catch-up meetings scheduled and I am looking forward to them as well as thinking very seriously about how to approach them and what I want to get out of them. About a third of them are with people who have already told me they might have work for me soonish. The rest are with people who might lead to work in the long term, but maybe never. So why do it?

People have been telling me for years that I’m great at networking but I’ve only realised in the last year or so just how much time I spend maintaining relationships, not just with friends but with colleagues and contacts, some of whom are also friends.

(This is probably going to make people wonder whether they are my friends or colleague-friends, although I think most people in my life know where they fit and are quite comfortable with the situation.)

If I’m good at networking, it’s because I enjoy the act of connecting with people just for its own sake. People are interesting. We are strange creatures with unpredictable, irreconcilable passions and opinions and behaviours. We are stupid and brilliant and irrational and logical. We all know how confusing and complicated life can be and I enjoy finding out what goes on in people’s minds and how they make their choices.

The rest of the reason is that I freelance (I’ve only just started doing it full-time, but I’ve been doing bits and pieces for a while) and I get work via word of mouth. It’s a simple equation: the more people who have you fresh in their minds as someone switched on and pleasant to be around, the more work you will be offered.

It’s also really important to be aware that networking doesn’t yield immediate results—ever. To understand the value of what you are doing when you go around meeting with 20 people in three weeks, you need to look with a long eye. Networking isn’t one meeting or one industry function where you hand out business cards; it’s building relationships and creating a history with people. If it sounds like a lot of effort, it is. No matter what you do for a living, if you’re passionate about it, I think putting in that effort is worth it.

And I’m feeling pretty smug right now because the effort is currently paying off for me. Since I have, in a ridiculously short period of time, both moved cities and started freelancing full-time, I’ve been sharply reminded of just how valuable networking is for me.

When I was first considering relocating, I thought I’d do it in the middle of this year. To prepare, I let a few people in Melbourne know late last year. I wanted to put the idea of me being here in a few minds so that six or nine months later they might connect that idea with work they knew needed doing.

It turned out someone made that connection about eight and a half months early and I moved within a few weeks of starting to think about it. (Don’t try that one at home.) Since I’ve arrived with about half the workload I would like, I’m madly networking to catch up with myself. I’m looking forward to a fun, if a bit stressful, few weeks.

Do you have any networking tips or stories?

Image credit: Engagemedia.org under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike licence

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Posted in: Career, Melbourne