I recently attended my son’s Sociology Department graduation ceremony and listened to student speakers talk about “Social Networks”. Their references were mostly about social safety nets. But, as I listened, I recalled the beginning of my career at B2B CFO when I was told that building business was all about networking.
The trouble for me was that I really had no idea what that meant.
For the majority of my working life, I had been an employee. Sure, I had to development relationships with other department managers and finance professionals in other divisions. But, it was functional, based on what we needed to accomplish as a team for the same company. Now, as an independent service provider, I didn’t have peers to work with on a common, company defined goal.
I initially fumbled my way through various social events, some even labeled as “networking events”. I collected a lot of business cards and handed out mine. I didn’t really understand how most of the people I met could help me. Neither could I see how I could help them. But, eventually I came to understand what those budding young sociologists seemed to already grasp much better than me.
Effective “networking” is building a net around you, a safety net to support you. Network isn’t just a verb, it’s a noun. And, for me, the way to do that is not to meet as many people as possible, but to connect as many people as possible.
The origins of word “net” are not definitive, but some scholars think it may be derived from the latin root nad and be related to the word nodus, a knot. Others relate it to the verb necto, `I weave’. It is the combination of these two ideas that define network for me.
Networking is the job of knotting together the people you know and weaving them into a net around you. It’s not just about meeting a lot of people and building a database with spokes generating from a single source, it is about connecting people to one another and making a net.
Once I realized that Networking was not a new skill to learn, it was just about connecting the people around me, I realized it was something I already knew how to do. And, while I might not have a need for the services or products of a person who I met, I was very likely to know someone who did. Now, the first thing I do after meeting someone is to think of at least one other person to introduce them to, regardless of whether or not I think they may do the same for me.
The young sociologist may call them “social safety nets”, but the networks that successful business people build around themselves and their businesses could also be called safety nets. Even when some of the knots come loose, the net remains strong enough to sustain the business until it’s repaired or expanded.
Make the connections. Build a net. And, your business thrives.