Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…

Business NetworkingYou would be amazed at the number of people who still don’t understand the importance of networking. Building relationships is crucial – there are many smart, talented people who don’t progress as much as they would hope in their career because they are not visible to the “right” people. Use every opportunity to build relationships with a diverse group of people at different levels in organisations pertinent to your business or your career. When you meet people, one introduction isn’t enough – maintain contact with them – that’s how relationships are formed – over time – not just by one meeting.

Six degrees of separation works – the people you know, know people, who know people. Everyone you encounter has someone in their network with the potential to help you. The best relationships are formed by way of “introductions” or “referrals.” Everyone you meet has someone in their network who may be a potential client, supplier, employee, or employer of yours sometime in the future.

Online vs Offline networking – Which should you do?

In today’s world you need to do both! In my line of business, there is no substitute for good regular face to face contact with your key clients, suppliers and colleagues. I can really build powerful relationships much more quickly in this way. That being said, I’m a big user of LinkedIn and more recently Twitter  (see below) – both of which help me keep in touch with key contacts and influencers wherever they are in the world. I also use them to keep on top of what my contacts are doing, help them spread the word on important technology or business news and help target new markets and customers.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedInOnline – There are many business networking sites out there, but those below are, by far (in my view), the easiest to help you get started:

1. LinkedIn – With over 100 million users worldwide and 5+ million in the UK, LinkedIn is one of the easiest, and arguably best, ways for career-minded professionals to connect. But it’s far more powerful than just an online CV. Use LinkedIn effectively and you can reap the rewards for your career – from being head hunted to closing business deals and establishing yourself as an expert in your field using Q&A and Groups. By upgrading your subscription you can also use LinkedIn to target customers or new contacts. I’ve found that once you get over a couple of hundred contacts, it has really come into its own and has helped me to connect with numerous new suppliers and potential business partners.

2. Twitter – I personally have found Twitter to be more effective than LinkedIn in growing my professional network. This is mainly because on LinkedIn, I generally only add colleagues and business contacts I have already worked with in the past or know personally. You are free to follow anyone on Twitter you want to connect with that may have similar or common interests. Therefore, Twitter will help you find and network with new people worldwide. When you are using Twitter For Business Networking it is important to remember to use it consistently to share your expertise, build your credibility, and take an interest in others. Many people make the mistake of immediately pushing products and services which results in alienating their followers.

3. Facebook – Whilst Facebook is primarily seen as a consumer social networking site, over the last year or so more and more businesses are setting up pages for people to ‘Like’. Thousands of well-known brands are interacting with their customers for service queries and publishing breaking news on product or services.

4. Plaxo – Whilst not really a ‘networking’ site, Plaxo provides automatic updating of contact information. Users and their contacts store their information on Plaxo’s servers. When this information is edited by the user, the changes appear in the address books of all those who listed the account changer in their own books.

Business NetworkingOffline – In the UK, there are many organisations that you can join that will help you build your business network – BNI, British Chambers of Commerce, Institute of Directors. All of these organisations have regional networking events.

Regionally in Yorkshire and Humber, UK We are extremely lucky to have a number of great networking organisations in addition to those mentioned above:

1. Yorkshire Mafia – Is an online and offline organisation that offer regular face to face informal meet-ups around the region – It brings together executives and stakeholders from the Yorkshire Business Community to meet, network, share experience, learn, build relationships and ultimately trade.

2. Techmesh – IT & Telecoms business to business (B2B) networking events, receive business development support, professional skills development and professional services provision. Business networking events feature global IT & Telecom keynote speakers and are held in Leeds, Sheffield, York and Hull on a monthly rotation.

3. Hull Bondholders – The Bondholder scheme in Hull is fundamentally about bringing businesses together to raise Hull’s profile and change its image, providing a positive context in which Hull’s businesses can operate. It’s also a fantastic networking opportunity for business people from businesses of all sizes to meet and explore business opportunities.

Some tips on Face to Face Networking:

1. Have a plan – Do you know who will be at the event? Find out if you can. Who do you really want to meet? Do a bit of online research about the people / companies you wish to engage with or ask around your own network as to key people you should meet.

2. Arrive early – people are more likely to approach you if there are fewer people in the room and you can get better visibility of who is arriving.

3. Don’t be shy – Introduce yourself simply by saying something like – ‘Do you mind if I join you?’

4. Be interested – in what the other person has to say. Ask lots of questions about them and their business.

5. Don’t sell – Networking should not be about the hard sell, although opportunities often present themselves and that’s ok. Networking is all about building relationships.

6. Business Cards – Ensure you have enough! Ensure you exchange business cards during interactions (or ‘bump’ your iPhones!)

7. Follow-up – a quick email or a personalised LinkedIn request following the event is key to keeping the relationship going.

8. Follow-up some more – If you feel that you made a good first impression with someone and you got on well, keep in touch.

9. Keep it up – you’ll be amazed after attending a few events the number of people who will start to recognise you and actively engage, especially if you’ve kept in touch.

Good luck with your networking…..Let me know how you get on!

Employability ~ Who to employ?

Employability - Word CloudThis week I’ve had the privilege to meet with some fantastic educators from  around the region. Some of these conversations were around the topic of employability – what differentiates great from good candidates and what do employers look for in school leavers or graduates?

So below I’ve outlined 10 key attributes that I believe are crucial to GET A CAREER:

Grades – It still is hugely important for students to try to get the best grades they can at whatever level of education they have completed prior to them making the decision to enter the employment market. This is especially important if you wish to gain employment in competitive industries. Many employers use range and type of subjects, level of qualification and grades as the first filter for candidate selection – I’m not saying this is right or wrong…it’s just fact. Good grades in Maths and English (in the UK) are a must.

Experience – Work Experience is undoubtedly one of the best ways to develop employability skills as well as giving you an idea of whether you wish to go into a particular career area after school, college or university. Many Universities offer internships as part of their offering (Example: The University of Hull ), or work placements as part of their courses. Many schools through the Education and Business Partnership are developing links with businesses across the country to help forge links with businesses for work placements or mentoring. Many private sector businesses get involved in apprentice schemes to give young potential employees some paid experience and many leading to permanent positions (Case Study: KC). Volunteering – Wherever you are in the world, there are always opportunities to volunteer your skills to gain wider experience or strengthen your skills.

Team player – Being able to show that you can work collaboratively with others from a wide range of backgrounds is a key requirement in most occupations and is very important when applying for a job. Employers see the ability to work as part of a team as a crucial skill, and you need to be able to demonstrate convincingly that you have sufficient understanding and experience of team working. Whilst you’re in education – get involved in teams / groups – you’d be amazed at how this helps in building your confidence in team work – and you won’t even know it, because chances are you’ll be having fun doing it.

Attitude – a ‘can do’ approach with a drive to make things happen, a passion to learn and prove that you want to be ‘the best that you can be’,  goes a long way in the early stages of employment. You may have to start at the bottom of an organisation, but with the right attitude you won’t stay at the bottom very long!

Communication – Oral / Written: Excellent written and interpersonal communication skills are vital to success in life. Being able to show that you can write concisely and with clarity is a key skill in the initial stage of applying for graduate positions. Likewise being able to converse in a confident and effective manner with others from a wide range of backgrounds is a key requirement in life as well as work and is vital in the initial application process.

Awareness – Commercial: Employers are looking for the following: Knowledge of business generally – Basic financial awareness – Profit & Loss & Business cases; Ability to form opinions and views on issues; An understanding of the issues facing the industry you wish to work in; Appreciation of business stories and their impact on a wider scale;  and the ability to research a topic, analyse and summarise it and present back your findings and recommendations.

Relationships – The ability to build relationships quickly is crucial to a successful career. Start to build your network of contacts as early as you can – you never know when you’ll need someone’s help. LinkedIn is a great business networking site that not only helps you build your network, but has job areas, industry groups and companies that you can monitor to help your commercial awareness at the same time. 

Enthusiasm – Do NOT underestimate the power of enthusiasm – It’s infectious. Whilst enthusiasm is an attitude, I’m not cheating in my mnemonic (Get a Career) by having Enthusiasm separately – because it’s important.

‘E’-Skills – The ability to ‘Work Digitally’ has never been more important than today. As a minimum you should have a good understanding of Microsoft Windows and Office products (Outlook, Word, Excel and Powerpoint of the most importance) as well as the ability to carry out desk research via the web. Depending on your career path you will need to be conversant with key applications that are widely used in your chosen field. The use of voice and video conferencing is widely used in business as well as collaboration tools like Microsoft Office Communications Server and SharePoint. If you have an opportunity to use these at home or your School or University…take the opportunity! 

Reliable – A really simple one – Be on time (or early). Deliver on what you say you will deliver. Be open and honest.

I’m sure there are many more skills you can think of – but for me, the above differentiate the great from the good!

Would love to get your views, thoughts and feedback…..

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