It’s time to move beyond being known as ‘Mr. Network’.
For many years that tag from The Sun has followed me around, being both a boon and a burden. It helped to establish my credibility and boost my presence, whatever you think of the newspaper that said it. On the flip side, it pigeon-holed me into a space which no longer really represents what I offer.
For many years I have said that I could make my fortune if I could come up with a widely-accepted alternative tag for networking. The word itself sparks a range of responses in people when they hear it, not many of them positive. Most of all, it invites preconceptions and misunderstanding.
For me it’s always been more. When I exited my last business and started focusing on speaking, training and mentoring, I chose the term ‘Business Networking Strategist’. Apart from a couple of people who mainly flew under the radar, at that time almost everyone talked about ‘networking skills’ and not strategy. We wanted to know how to work a room* but not understand why we were in the room in the first place.
We wanted to know how to work a room but not understand why we were in the room in the first place.
I have spent much of the last twelve years and more emphasising how networking events and sites have value but only as tools of an effective networking strategy. They are not networking itself.
Many people now understand this but the common understanding of networking still focuses predominantly on events and sites. People still rush to join networking groups and collect business cards or connect manically and randomly on social networks because they’ve been told that they have to build their network.
The amazing thing is that those same people have a network, a collection of trusted and valued relationships with people they have known professionally and personally for many years. But that resource, if I can use such a cold word, is ignored in the headlong rush for new contacts.
My failure to change the mindset even of my own network struck me a couple of months ago.
I had a day of video filming planned for the following week and reached out to my network on social media channels and through the pages of my newsletter to ask what questions people wanted answered. I chose my words very carefully, asking people what questions I should address on the topics of networks, referral strategy, personal brand or vulnerability. I deliberately avoided using the words ‘networking’ or ‘events’.
And yet, until I intervened, every question I was asked focused on how to best approach groups of people, get into and out of conversations and variations on the theme of networking skills.
But it’s a tiny fraction of the support I offer. Most of my work focuses on winning referrals; developing strong internal networks to break down silos, innovate or further careers; mentoring and masterminding and, with my new book, having a trusted network to open up and be vulnerable with.
So much more than working a room.
So my positioning is shifting. I’m not saying “No more ‘Mr. Network'”, at least not yet. Networking still lies at the core of what I offer, including networking skills, but it’s just one tool, one facet, of my area of focus.
My new positioning is that I help businesses and individuals to build, nurture and leverage professional relationships. Looking back at all of the work I have done with my clients, that statement acts as a much more accurate and, I believe, resonant description than just plain old ‘networking’.
I help businesses and individuals to build, nurture and leverage professional relationships
Professional relationships underpin career and business success. The reason we network, in the oft-understood sense, is to develop new relationships (‘build’) but then we need to develop them (‘nurture’) and allow them to support us (‘leverage’). Whether it’s advice, support, insight, advocacy, referrals or more, those professional relationships can be the difference between success and failure.
So, that’s how I am repositioning my business. Some talks and workshops are being retired, others rewritten and recrafted. Over the last few weeks I have written a lot of new content based around professional relationships and delivered a brand new workshop three times, all well received.
It’s not just about how I market myself but how I meet that promise. The ‘Networking Wheel’, which I have used in my training for over a decade, has been rewritten to reflect the three areas of professional relationships referenced above. And that just becomes the starting point for the work I’m doing.
From this diagnostic we can work out exactly where the focus needs to be for each individual participant on a workshop or audience member. The questions change based on the industry, sector or company needs and the work can be so much more targeted than just a generic networking skills session.
So, some questions for you.
– How strong are your existing professional relationships?
– In which areas do you lack the relationships you need?
– How good are you at keeping in touch with your network?
– Does your network support you as much as they potentially could?
– How strong is your organisation when it comes to focusing on building, nurturing and leveraging professional relationships?
I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts. Please comment below or get in touch and share your own experiences.
* Thanks to Susan RoAne for this phrase that has entered the popular vocabulary.