Guildford Link-UP

What goes around comes around - the value of networking

23rd October 2009

The week is almost over and over the past two days I’ve been asked the same question by three friends: “what does networking involve?”

It’s funny how we take certain aspects of our business for granted and it’s only when a friend asks what it involves that we stop and take stock of what it is and why we do it.

Networking is the aspect of PR that attracted me to the role in the first place: meeting new people and finding out more about them, their interests and their business. Whether they are journalists, analysts, clients, PR colleagues, potential suppliers or prospects, there’s always something that a new contact can teach you.

As a freelance PR, I quickly recognised the value of networking events for providing the “office buzz” that you miss when you’re working on your own. For example, I first heard about Twitter from a London based PR while attending a PR Newswire event in 2008. I then discussed it with half a dozen of my PR colleagues. At first I received quite a few bemused responses to the microblogging service. These quickly evolved into regular Tweets, ReTweets and active updates from my closest friends and colleagues which is excellent for keeping up to date on the latest news and events. Since then Twitter has gained more than 20 million active users according to eMarketer and I’ve used it to set up briefings for clients; to see which news stories are trending; to follow important journalists and analysts and to find out about networking events.  I’ve found it really useful for keeping up to date on who’s where and when (there’s no point phoning someone at 10am GMT if they’ve Tweeted overnight that they’re in a different time zone).  I’ve even bought a bicycle through Twitter.

As everyone’s focus turns to the impact of social media, it’s important not to neglect opportunities to network face to face. As soon as I set up Phiness PR, I made sure I attended events being held by the Chamber of Commerce and Business Link (now Gov.UK). These proved invaluable for finding out about other services that were available to start ups and entrepreneurs.
The most exciting thing about networks is the way one thing leads to another. To prove the point, I was introduced to the excellent 4Networking group by a CRM vendor that I met at a Chamber of Commerce event and again at an evening run our local Best Of group. I met my accountant on a Business Link course and she introduced me to Ladies Who Latte

4N impressed me so much that I signed up immediately. Unlike other organised networking groups such as BNI, 4Networking allows small business owners and business development managers to network as and when it suits them, rather than tying them to a set number of meetings each week. There is no restriction on how few or how many breakfast meetings they attend and no exclusivity clause. Two competing businesses can attend the same meeting. The format is the same nationwide: a group of around twenty business people bring £10, a smile and then take turns to introduce their businesses in 40 seconds. This is followed by three in depth 1:1 meetings with people who you think could help you out. 4N works on the principle that people buy business services from people that they know, like and trust. It works. Both Best of Aldershot and 4Networking have generated new business for Phiness PR, as well as putting me in touch with extremely valuable services and suppliers. 

One of the lessons I learnt early on in networking is to talk less and listen more. Only that way will you learn enough about the other person and see how you might be able to help them. “Help” could come in the form of introducing them to someone who offers a service that could solve a particular issue they’re facing, or by offering them your own services. 4N’s founder, Brad Burton, talks about selling through the room, not to the room. This highlights a really important aspect of networking, that it’s not just who you know, but who they know that helps to generate new business. But business generation is only one benefit of networking: it’s the knowledge, ideas and support that you can gain that may provide most value to your business.