I went up to London twice this week, both times on the express train and both times to arrive for a 9:00am meeting. On the first day I stopped at the station cafe to buy myself a strong coffee – no milk and no sugar. As I walked into the cafe on the second day the guy on the counter smiled and said ‘Good morning – strong coffee, no milk and no sugar – right?’
Those early morning trains are an interesting place to be – most passengers clearly travel the same route each day and have their own ‘travel networks’ – those fellow passengers who they see each day, sit with and talk to each day. I am not sure when I will next be on the early train but I do know that if I travelled that route every day then I too would extend my own network beyond my coffee supplier.
I have been investing in my external network this year. Indeed both trips to London were – in effect – networking opportunities. I have long since been a passionate advocate for, and user of, internal networks…the difference now is my increased external focus. Interestingly enough, although external networking is similar to internal, it also involves doing some different things and doing some things differently.
I realised this year that I wanted to do something different with my external network. And my start was to think of networking in a different way. This is not a January thing or a recent events thing.
By way of doing some different things I have been reaching out to my Outlook and LinkedIn contacts. Both have involved email and telephone conversations – I have even discovered the impressive delights of Skype! It’s been both satisfying and great fun to engage with old and new friends in a different way. But I also know that – like with internal networks –benefit and value I give or get does not, or will not, appear simply by me adding someone to a list.
My starting point for networking is the assumption that there is always value – personal value always and professional value sometimes – to be given and gained from a network. But it is the relationships themselves that are the key to any benefit….and – of course – this is also the route to personal enjoyment. Results come from the relationship itself. So investing in network relationships is the only way forward.
Building a network is not an event based activity – it is not an email or a text message; neither is it a LinkedIn invite or becoming friends on Facebook. Networks grow, develop and reward through the same social interactions that drive any relationship. And (as in any relationship) it’s the simple things that always make the difference.
Regular interactions. Sharing information or ideas or thoughts through email, telephone or social media (Skype is so impressive because it allows for easy face to face contact). Introducing contacts to each other; helping each other, offering ideas and collaborating together. Showing trust; accepting advice; laughing and celebrating.
I am building and strengthening my network. I am investing time and energy into my relationships. I am focussing on the little things. Yes I have my big stuff to do but I am doing the small things as well.
And what am I looking for? I don’t know. But I know it when I see it. And whatever it is it will come from my network. When I need an idea they will be there. When I need advice they will be there. And when I need a friend they will be there.
And they have been.