Having invested time in building my network over a number of years, and being a firm believer in the Law of Reciprocity, I have a wide network of contacts that can be of direct help to me, but more often help to others I come across.
For instance, I happened to mention to someone during a networking event that I was working on a project where one of the challenges was to build a database capable of storing graphical images. He suggested I speak to an IT specialist he knew – Ken – who had experience of that kind of thing. When we met up it turned out that Ken could also write software to automate the back-office processes – ensuring a lean and efficient operation.
I met John at an Entrepreneurs World lunch event. He mentioned a TV business he was still connected with and I wondered if it might be an opportunity for a client of mine, who specialised in producing content. I connected them and six months later, Liz landed a deal with John.
In turn, I have benefited too; Monica, whom I met through Toastmasters International, booked me to speak at a dinner. During her event, I was sitting next to the Managing Director of a Corporate Finance house. We followed up this meeting and eight moths later, when I was involved with a project requiring £2.5m funding, he was able to offer great advice.
So no doubt, there are benefits to having a broad network of contacts. Adding value to contacts helps to build the relationship and increases the chances that something, somewhere will come back to you.
But what about depth? What comes from depth of a relationship is trust and confidence. Depth is about getting to know the person. They become someone you can trust. There are two situations in particular I’d like to illustrate. The first is where there is a specific need, however there is much more at stake and hence just a one-off meeting and occasional touch call would not build a close enough relationship to allow anything to happen.
For instance, Stuart and Helen had been members of the Academy for Chief Executives for over two years. Helen’s business was struggling due to the recession, and because Stuart knew her he decided to invest in her business and bring in a further contact of his to help turn the business around.
Another opportunity within a focused business group arose when Louise mentioned that she was having trouble getting Planning permission for an extension. Clive, an architect, was also in the group, and because she’d got to know him and his particular expertise – dealing with tough Planning issues – she was able to engage him and is now well on the way to having her dream house.
Second, there is the opportunity to use a closer-knit group with trusting relationships as a sounding board to thrash out challenging business issues or even work-life balance issues and how to focus on the business when the family also needs attention. In these situations a network of people in different types of business is important – but so is networking with your peers. Often your peers will understand what you are going through better than anyone else – in particular fellow mumpreneurs are based placed to understand the unique challenges of running a solo business and looking after a family.
Overall however, the key is to find people who think differently to you. If all your contacts have a similar perspective we risk missing out on being introduced to alternative scenarios. As one member of my ACE group Bee Kemball, MD of Debach Enterprises said, “It really opened my eyes to witness the diverse approaches people would take to the same problem.” She has broadened her contacts as a result of this awareness.
So I’d advocate you need both breadth and depth in your network. Spend a few moments thinking about how you’d score your network for each on a 1-10 scale. If you’re not where you’d like to be – take steps to remedy it.
To increase breadth: Get talking to people! It can be just as effective through your hobbies, friends and family contacts – as well as striking up conversations with strangers (I won £2.5k worth of business from talking to a lady next to me on a train!)
To increase depth: Think about what areas of expertise would really add to your current contacts and seek them out. If you’re considering joining a networking organisation, make sure the membership is diverse and that some structure exists for in-depth discussions. This way you will be able to develop both depth and breadth.
About Hilary Briggs
Hilary Briggs is a profitable growth expert with over 15 years of industrial experience, having held senior management positions at Rover Group, Whirlpool Corporation and The Laird Group plc. For the last 10 years, she’s worked with SME’s to improve their profitability. Hilary is Managing Director of profitable growth specialists R2P Ltd. www.hilarybriggs.co.uk