Network And Networking Definitions - Other Pointers
As explained in the introductory definitions of network and 'network' above, definitions can be very helpful in understanding concepts.
This is definitely so in the words network and networker.
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a (business) network is:
"A group or system of interconnected things or people."
This is significant when we consider networking in its fullest sense - beyond one-to-one meetings or contacts.
The word network first appeared in English around 1560. It meant, not surprisingly, 'a netlike structure', and actually originally referred to the process of making a net of some sort.
These terms derive originally from the net used by a fisherman.
The bigger and stronger the net, the more fish would be caught.
The same with business networks. (The fish represents your aims, for example sales achieved, or new clients.)
Networking goes beyond one-to-one meetings.
Effective networking involves building a strong well-connected network.
If you only take (or sell), your network will be weak. If you mainly help and give, your network will be strong.
To many this is counter-intuitive, but it works.
Types of networking situations, events and methods
There are many types of networking situations and methods. Far more than you might imagine.
Most people tend to think only of the best known business networking clubs and websites, but business networking can be done virtually anywhere that you find business-people relevant to your aims and capabilities.
This is important when you remember that other professional people outside of the business community can also be very helpful in networking (for example, scientists, lecturers, educators, councillors, etc.)
Understand the nature of different groups and how they operate - online and physical 'real world' - their purposes, rules (official and unofficial) and compositions (the types of people in the groups and their aims, needs, expectations, etc).
Some commentators/writers refer to 'hard contact' and 'soft contact' networking groups, and to the 'hard contacts', and 'soft contacts' within such groups. In the context of networking these 'hard' and 'soft' contact meanings are broadly as follows (but note the warning below the definitions):
- 'hard contacts' (or a 'hard contact' group/network) - refers to a networking group specifically designed to produce referrals among group members, who may be (according to certain definitions) the only representatives of their particular service/offering in the group. This is usually a group of business people who meet regularly for the purposes of presenting their offerings to the group and who undertake to refer sales prospects to each other. Often such groups are organized under the rules/structure/franchise of an over-arching 'business networking' body or corporation. Aside from this quite specific description, 'hard contact' terminology may be used more generally in referring to a group/network/person with whom a specific business referral expectation/relationship exists, i.e., the main or substantial reason for the relationship is the mutual referral of potential business opportunities/prospects.
- 'soft contacts' (or a 'soft contact' group/network) - refers to any group or network of people offering possibilities for business networking, sales referrals, introductions, job openings, business opportunities, etc. This can be physical groupings which meet face-to-face (for example, trade associations, interest groups, family and friends, professional institutes, societies and clubs, etc) or virtual groups which are organized via the internet (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc). In this context, 'soft contacts', and 'soft contact networks' may be organized in extremely varied ways, with little or no expectation/need of business referral activity, and consequently the sales/business person is responsible for assessing and defining how best to approach and develop networking opportunities within each group according to the situation.
- N.B. Be wary of ambiguous terminology like the above. People may use it in different ways. Clarify meaning accordingly. Such terms are for guidance, not blind adherence/application. Life and business are more complex than simplistic headings. So be open to the possibility of variation, adaptation and other options, outside of brief descriptive structures.
Here are some of the main examples of situations and methods suitable for business networking, including specially organized business networking events, meetings, activities and systems.
Many of these are not organized networking activities. Many of these networking situations are simply opportunities to meet people relevant to your aims, when your initiative and creativity can turn vague potential into worthwhile networking.
For all networking opportunities, your success is dependent on the relevance of the situation and the quality and energy of your involvement.
Brief pointers and tips are shown alongside each networking opportunity.
Conferences are full of people with common interests. Coffee breaks are an ideal time to make introductions.
Exhibitions are obviously full of business people with a common interest. Most exhibitions rightly do not like visitors to canvass the exhibitors, but there are plenty of other situations to meet people and network.
Seminars attract business people of all sorts. Again there are usually coffee breaks which are ideal for making introductions and getting to know people.
Open training courses are excellent for meeting other business people. Many will encourage informal networking among delegates because this adds value to the quality of the event; certain types of training bring people together in work teams, making it extremely easy to get to know all attendees very well.
|Chambers of Trade or Commerce||
All towns have at least one 'chamber of commerce', specifically to bring local business-people together. Many run networking events and/or other meetings and activities which are ideal for networking.
|Breakfast networking clubs||
Several companies run regular breakfast networking clubs as their primary business. Other companies will run one-off events to connect with the local business community. These purpose-designed events obviously provide a good opportunity to engage with other business people.
|Business networking websites||
Since the development of interactive website technology in the late 1990s there are increasing numbers of online business networking organizations. Each has its own culture and systems. Some are vast, covering all types of business imaginable, for example linkedin.com. Others are industry or trade specific, and some are geographically focused. All can be found quickly and easily by searching the web.
Website forums exist for every subject you can think of. Each offers a networking opportunity for the subject matter concerned.
|Website user groups||
User groups are a further variation of groups found online. User groups are typically within the websites of major internet corporations such as Google and Yahoo. Many user groups are highly specialised, and by implication, internet networking is second-nature to most of these people.
|Professional body websites||
Every profession and trade is represented and connected by at least one official body, which tends to act on behalf of its members, and also offers various opportunities for outsiders to get involved and make helpful connections.
|Interactive special interest websites||
Networking has been made much easier with the advent of interactive membership websites. When you have identified your target groups, there will be a specialist membership website somewhere which represents and brings them together.
|Community social websites||
Facebook is the obvious example. There are many others. Culture and demographic profile are different in each. Some of these websites and memberships are vast. Bigger than countries. This is because of the social aspect, which might initially be appealing, but making a business impact can be very challenging due to the scale of these operations.
|Online/mobile communications applications||
Twitter is the obvious example. New internet platforms like these can grow from nothing to be hugely popular social connection systems in just a few months. Business people can use them to good effect if approached in a very dedicated and technically informed way. Otherwise they can become big time-wasters, so beware.
|Local networking events||
Anyone can set up a networking event, so you can find isolated or more permanent networking operations cropping up at a town near you.
|Speed networking events||
Speed networking is a highly structured type of networking event, in which an organizer (there are several, of varying type and quality) coordinates quick introductions among a group of typically between 20-40 people. The concept is similar, and probably modelled on speed-dating formats.
|Societies and associations||
Every specialist subject has its own society or association. These organizations offer various ways to meet their members.
|Institutes for industries||
Every industry has its own institute or similar. Various events and methods generally exist by which outsiders can engage with the institute's membership.
|Lectures and talks||
Lectures and talks occur widely, held or promoted by various organizations for all sorts of purposes. Obviously a lecture/talk will attract a common grouping of people interested in the subject concerned.
|Universities and colleges||
Universities and colleges are like little towns in their own right. Some are like quite big towns. They are also now run like big businesses. These communities contain a vast number of very interesting people, many of whom are very relevant to business. For the past twenty years or so, these big educational establishments have been increasingly keen to engage with business people of all sorts. It's a matter of talking to them and discovering what opportunities exist for getting involved.
Corporate hospitality events - a rarer thing in modern times - are typically organized by big corporations to get to know their suppliers and customers better. If you find yourself involved in one of these it will present some of the best conditions for business networking that you will ever experience. Fill your boots, as they say.
If you have company shares, especially in a big corporation, you will tend to meet a lot of business people at shareholder gatherings. Many shareholders do not invest just for financial reasons - many invest because they have an enthusiasm for the company's technology or culture, which in some cases can offer a relevant target group for your business networking aims.
|Annual General Meetings||
AGMs are by their nature a regular occasion offered by corporations and membership organizations to engage with its members. Some are very formal and tightly run with little networking opportunities, but others are more sociable affairs, in which case if the group is relevant to your aims, and you can become a member it's worth consideration.
Conventions are organized for all sorts of special interest groups. If the group is relevant to your aims in any way, then their convention could offer excellent networking opportunities.
Pressure group meetings are strongly connected and usually attended by very active and energized people. If the subject is relevant to your aims there will be opportunities to meet some interesting people at this sort of event. These situations often also have scope for volunteering and becoming involved at a strategic level.
Public meetings are held for all sorts of reasons, for example local planning consultations; presentation of local development plans. These events attract business people, especially if the subject relates to commerce, as many will do. At meetings like these, most attendees sit and listen for quite a while, and consequently are ready for conversation during breaks and at the close of the meeting.
Product launches invariably offer at least one situation when attendees stand and mingle together drinking tea/coffee. Some have receptions afterwards. If you are able to attend one of these events where the subject is relevant to your aims, then you will find opportunities to network. The same applies to book launches and similar publicity events.
Opening ceremonies, especially for notable new buildings, attract many local business people and dignitaries. If the community concerned is relevant to your aims this sort of event can provide useful networking opportunities. The same applies to unveiling ceremonies, especially where there is a reception afterwards.
|Festivals and shows||
Festivals are organized for many interests, and naturally attract a large group of people with related involvement, including business-people. Agricultural and county shows are a further example. If the subject is relevant, there'll be networking potential.
|Foreign trade visits||
Local chambers of commerce, regional development agencies, and similar business bodies routinely organize trade missions and gatherings to promote international trade for their region and/or members. Such activities offer excellent networking scope.
Lots of business people enjoy sport, and enjoy mixing sport with business. Golf is the stereotypical example for sports club networking, although all sports, and other special interest clubs, tend to have many business people in their membership. If the group is relevant to your aims and you enjoy the activity concerned, consider becoming a member yourself.
Clubs exists for every hobby and interest you can imagine. Instead of sitting at home watching the TV, join a local club that interests you, and meet some new interesting people.
Not all pubs are good for networking, but some are great, because they are the regular haunts of local business-people. For a very long time indeed, lots of business has been done in pubs.
|Trains, boats, planes, etc.||
Business-people tend to travel around a bit. When you are travelling too, keep your eyes and ears open and be ready to start conversation. Delays are particularly useful for making introductions. So are long plane and train journeys when you could be sat next to another business person for several hours. Make the most of these opportunities.