How I found my business network

Networking can be as simple as a coffee catch up

Do you remember the scene in Shrek (the first movie) when Donkey was making an absolute pest of himself, jumping up and down behind all the fairy-tale creatures, repeatedly, until in the end he wore Shrek down and was picked to go on the quest to find Lord Farquaad?

Hilarious, but not so funny was that this was how I saw business networking for many years.

 I was at a sales conference many years ago, the dinner was over, the speeches were done and we were meant to be ‘networking’

I can still recall looking across the room and seeing a number of my colleagues gathered around the management team, and rather like Donkey, trying to be seen and impress how clever, witty or capable they thought they were.

I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t know how to do that (what on earth do you say, I wondered?) and frankly, I didn’t think that the end of a long day after a couple of red wines was the time for a best-impression. 

So I chatted for a while and made my excuses.

Which I also did on many a Friday night when the sales team I worked in was headed down the pub to ‘network'’ with the support staff and technicians who looked after our customers.

I don’t know about you but by Friday night I’m done.

I had friends to catch up with, grocery shopping to do, dinner to cook or even some stolen moments in front of the TV to fit in. I’d worked long and hard enough by Friday night and I wanted to go home.

“You need to network” I was told when I declined yet another Friday night invitation and headed off to my life – now feeling guilty that somehow I wasn’t fitting in everything I needed to do. I also felt incredibly uncomfortable going to ‘networking’ events where I’d go home with a pile of business cards and no idea what to do with them.

Everyone tells you that it’s important to network. 

And I truly believe it is. 

When you develop deep business relationships, they are an unbelievable and generous source of information, ideas, contacts and even support when things don’t go your way. I thought I was missing out big time.

And then one-day I woke up (it wasn't just one-day, but you get the gist!) and discovered that I had an enormous network. I just hadn’t realised it.

I had worked at the one organisation for many years and worked with and for many great people.

I’d had coffee and lunches with them, worked on exciting and successful projects and on others that were stressful and hard work; laughed with them, helped them and been helped by them. 

Along the way my connections with the ‘people I worked with’ and ‘people I met through work’ had developed into deep mutually beneficial business relationships (and some into friends – but that’s another story) – and hey, presto - I did have a network!

It took moving away from the day-to-day contact for me to realise that’s what they were. The clues about how to keep them in my network were in the past – a coffee here, a lunch there, an occasional email on topics of mutual interest and I was networking. It just took a bit more thought and organisation than when they were sitting in the same office.

The real surprise came when I moved to my next company and realised that it was expected that I would still be keeping up with past colleagues and the last industry I had worked in. Woo Hoo! 

Networking was a legitimate activity I was meant to be doing as part of working in business. I didn’t have to sneak out at lunch time, make excuses or feel guilty!

My network has changed as I, and the ‘people-I-know’ have progressed in our careers, I’ve met new people and my network now extends to people in all sorts of jobs and organisations and many are scattered all over the world.

I do attend a couple of formal networking organisations now because I met some new great people that I share interests with - and it's fun.

It’s my network – why shouldn’t it be?

And not a donkey in sight!

- Karen





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