This article is written by Samantha Krajina of Geelong Women in Business.

As a Relationship Specialist, I predominately work in Corporate Workplace Training and often people would question the connection. How can a Relationship Specialist help me with my organization, or my team, or my clients? Almost immediately, they discover that it is in fact one of the most important elements to their business and its growth and success.

I like to look at networking, collaborating, supporting and connecting with other businesses as a relationship building exercise. And what’s the closest thing you can compare networking to? Dating. Networking is dating for business. For example, bring the focus of a man’s attention by encouraging him to go and talk to a woman that he is interested in, and the pressure is on. The amount of thoughts and doubts that are able to run through his head on anticipation and expectation over naturally engaging in a conversation are ten-fold and can be the undoing of interaction. We tell a staff member, or a friend, or ourselves to “go and network” we are essentially the friends of that man egging him on to go and chat to the woman.

We go into a networking event with the thoughts running through our mind that we want to talk to ‘this’ many people, we want to get ‘this’ many referrals, ‘this’ many sales… yet, we end up going to the event and talking to the one to two people we know. To compare this to dating, we are playing the short game.

In business, do we want to play the short or the long game? We don’t want short-lived quick business; we want long-term valuable and returning business.

I see so many people head to networking events in hopes to meet valuable individuals to network with, but leave disappointed. Their business is so important to them and they see networking as a fundamental to business success – which it absolutely is. But, they often fail and this is not because of the value of the group or the people there – it is for this exact reason and the perception and expectation people have on “networking”.

Desperate vs. Value-Driven Networking.

There are quite a few reasons that people want to grow their network, meet new people and develop new relationships, and just like dating, we can see a very obvious difference between those who appear desperate and those who are potentially a valuable connection.

There are people who review their business and think, “ok, I need customers, clients, referrals… I need to network!” so they shove their business in your face and we can pick them a mile away – this is very rarely an effective approach to networking. This is the short game!

Then there are other who look at their business and think, “ok, I have an amazing product/service and there are so many people who could benefit from what I have to offer and who I could collaborate with, and I want to discover the other amazing businesses and individuals out there who are also doing amazing
things” and these are the people who you can have a genuine conversation with – which is the most authentic and effective way to develop new relationships. People will remember your story, or how you made them feel more than whether or not they need/want your product/service. This is the long game!

You don’t need an event to network.

Going from a corporate career to owning a small business, I learnt very quickly that you don’t need an event to network. Every opportunity you have in engaging and interacting with people is an opportunity to network. As explained earlier, the most effective setting to network is an authentic one, and meeting people organically is the platform for a natural and genuine engagement.

N.B. Don’t forget social media! Just like online dating, social media is increasingly becoming a fantastic way to network and meet new people. It’s easy to connect and communicate with people on social media, and opening up a conversation about collaborating, connecting and catching up for a coffee can also be quite a fun experience. If you have trouble networking in person, this is a really great introduction and confidence builder.

Networking groups.

When it comes to groups focused on networking, too many of us focus on the strength in numbers. The real sign of a healthy and helpful professional networking group is who is there and how they communicate. Here are a few questions to discover if it might be worth giving the group a go:

Who is in the network?

Research shows that the ideal make-up of a network: “Part pack-rat, part librarian and part Good Samaritan.” The pack rat brings documents and resources collected over a long career that can be tapped to create new ideas and connections; the librarian brings the latest data and pertinent information; the Good Samaritan, though, might be the most integral player—she’s there to help out at every turn. This combination is the best balance of resources, information and good intentions to make a network not just functional, but beneficial to all members.

How well does the network connect with who it’s for?

Does the network get together on the first Wednesday of the month and operate with a policy of radio silence for the next 30 days? Many do, limiting networks and connections to within the confines of events. Especially for the younger members among the group, this can leave them unsure of whether or not to follow up with that brilliant executive they met. Will their persistence annoy her? Will she think they’re rude? Maybe better to wait till next month…

But healthy networks don’t limit themselves to monthly (or worse, quarterly) meetings. Look at what kinds of events and on-going projects are taking place. Look for focus groups that lead to research collaborations, grant applications, and proposals for joint books. Seek out meetings and projects that could entail a senior person working with someone more junior in a mentoring capacity. Joining a network that has professional associations means that the connections can share and enhance common goals, goodwill, commitment, and interests.

What is the culture of the group?

If the network operates under a culture of support, it means that any frustrations and disappointments will be heard in order to resolve problems, lend support, and provide assistance to overcome any frustrations and prevent burnout. If the networking group isn’t a place where you can share your concerns, even your frustrations and defeats, then it may not be the most fostering environment for
your career aspirations.

The most important part of a group’s culture is acceptance. A good networking group should always be complimentary and come second to your business and life. If you’re unable to make an event for a number of events, only to arrive back to questions and disappointment of your absence, it’s missing the whole concept of its purpose. Networking and developing an encouraging group of relationships are there to support one another in business and life, and when “real life” happens outside of the networking group, the collective must be flexible and supportive.

Written by Samantha Krajina from Geelong Women in Business, contact her on samantha@geelongwomen.com.au.

See more of what Samantha does with Geelong Women in Business here or attend one of our networking, breakfast talks here.