Networking: a critical business tool

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We often hear people saying if you show me your friends, I will show you your network. Or if you show me your network I will show you your net worth.

This speaks to the value of networks in general. Much of your success will depend on your network. It is within your network that you will find those helpers that will promote you or those haters that will demote you. Your network also speaks to the available resources at your disposal that you can tap into directly or indirectly.

In computer terminology, a network is defined as two or more computers that are linked in order to share resources (such as printers and CDs), exchange files, or allow electronic communications. These computers are often linked through cables, telephone lines, radio waves, satellites, or infrared light beams.

This is still true for human social and business networks – a group or system of interconnected people or things – interconnectivity connotes common beliefs and purposes. Again, sharing of resources such as information, courses, business leads, business strategies, useful articles, sage advice and skills is the basis for a lot of strong networks.

One of the things very few of us understand, however, is the fact that our networks must be balanced. Have you ever walked alongside an individual who greets everyone? The street urchin at the corner, the teller in the shop, the CEO of a big organisation, the driver of a bus to the rural areas … these people can be easily distracted from the business of the day that has brought you together because they are so busy keeping up with everyone around them.

This is true for our networks and where the issue of balance comes in. It is important to have quality networks over quantity. Quality networks are those where you have links to the right people with the right skills and knowledge to advance you in the direction you need to be advanced.

However, one must also separate social networks from professional networks based on your individual motives.

As a consultant, I have business networks that can provide me with skills for some of the jobs that I come across – it is within these networks that I talk predominantly about work; where to get it, how to get it, how to carry out a specific exercise.

I also have social networks of immediate and extended family and friends ranging from primary school friends through to friends I met during my post-graduate studies. The biggest advantage is that some of these networks actually overlap and I can ask a primary school friend in the field of medicine to help with the sick child of a friend from post-graduate studies, or I get a referral to a job from a friend from undergraduate studies.

All in all, between these networks I still have time for my own family which is a very important aspect of work-life balance and must never be overlooked.

Skills balance is also essential in a network. It will not help to know only consultants, what will happen when I need a doctor? Or a pharmacist or an engineer? In as much as we all have our niche in terms of skills, and those skills bring us into contact with people with similar skills, it is also important for us to realise that our world is so much larger than our specific sphere.

Going to various industry events allows us to gain networks that transcend our skills niche and diversify our network.

An individual’s sphere of influence is a perspective that must be considered as well. This is important because it also determines who you will have access to through their connections. If you have a connection with a drug dealer – his influence is with drug users and with dealers in alternative or complimentary drugs.

So know that it will pay to know who friends of your friends are so you can be able to tap into their networks as well. You can also tap into their resources, for example, if you are friends with a bank manager and you have a good working relationship, you will also know when mortgages or business loans are being given from that specific bank. You will also be able to tap their knowledge and understand why interest rates are too high or too low and be in a better position to manage your business.

One will argue and say but how do I get access to these people? The best way to catch fish, is to fish where there are fish. Places like advanced business courses, seminars, charity and social events, country clubs, book clubs, church gatherings (many churches now have business platforms for networking), professional organisations and chambers of commerce cater for individuals that increase your networks net worth which also translates into your net worth.

Take advantage of these places and improve your network. See your business and yourself grow as your networks improve.

Karen Manyati is the director of Zimbabwe Leadership Forum and writes in her personal capacity. She can be reached on [email protected]