FRONT OFICE BY MARY COLLINS

Investing in Networking Is Good For Business

One of the common misperceptions about networking is that it’s only of value for sales people looking for new business, or for those who have lost their jobs.However, learning how to network effectively — and feeling comfortable speaking with new acquaintances can be hugely beneficial to all professionals as well as their employers.

 What comes to your mind when someone mentions an event or conference as representing a good networking opportunity?

Alexandra Levi, the co-founder and managing partner of Element Financial Group, a financial advisory firm specializing in the media and entertainment industries, believes we’ll get 100 different answers to that question if we ask 100 people. And she should know. Levi is also president of New York Women in Film & Television which, like many industry organizations, hosts events featuring a networking component.

Levi believes that one of the common misperceptions about networking is that it’s only of value for sales people looking for new business, or for those who have lost their jobs.However, learning how to network effectively — and feeling comfortable speaking with new acquaintances can be hugely beneficial to all professionals as well as their employers.

With Media Finance Focus, the annual conference for MFM and its BCCA subsidiary, getting underway this weekend, we asked Levi to provide some pointers on building a more powerful base of professional contacts and friends.  Her advice appears in the May-June issue of MFM’s The Financial Manager magazine, and with most of us attending industry events in the coming months, I though you might find her eight tips for better networking helpful as well.

Why is it important?

As Levi points out, the benefits of networking come in many forms: client acquisition, employment and advancement opportunities, recruiting, information or resources. “Having a network to reach out to when you have questions or need something is more efficient than trying to solve an issue yourself,” she reminds us.  

BRAND CONNECTIONS

In addition, maintaining an active network allows us to keep abreast of different ways of doing business. “Your network can build your reputation as a ‘go-to’ person when anyone in your company or community needs something or someone. Go-to people are irreplaceable.”

What skills are required?

“It’s counterintuitive, but the best way to network is to listen,” Levi says. “You cannot learn how someone may be important to you unless you understand what he or she does, where they are from, and whom their network includes.” But that’s just the first step. In addition to being a good listener, she adds that we must also develop and apply our skills as good relationship builders and connectors.

Who should be part of my network?

Levi recommends focusing on people we like and respect. “A good barometer to use in determining whether to include someone in your network is whether you would be comfortable referring the person to a client or colleague.”

How do I get a networking conversation started?

As part of being a good listener, Levi says we should ask questions first. Common examples include opening the conversation by asking what a person does or what issues or projects they are currently addressing.

However, personal questions are not off-limits, according to Levi. She has found that asking about their families or interests can help to find areas of connection or ways our backgrounds may be linked or become linked. These conversations about areas of mutual professional or personal interest can lead to a follow up meeting over breakfast or lunch.

What should I tell about myself during initial conversations?

These conversations can represent good opportunities for using that elevator speech we are encouraged to maintain. Levi says it’s important to have a great response. “You have to be your biggest fan and best brand advocate. Be energetic and passionate about what you do, and people will want to be around you,” she advises.

Are there any networking faux pas?

Levi warns there are three types of people we don’t want to be:

  • Networking Sniper That’s the person who spends five minutes at an event telling you what they do, who they want to meet and why you should do business with them or refer them. “You’ll know when you encounter them, because your eyes will glaze over, and you’ll start looking toward the bar for a drink!”
  • Scorekeeper Don’t keep score on what someone in your network has done for you. Levi’s motto is: ‘Give, give, give, and then you get.”
  • Clock Watcher The benefits of networking take time. She notes, “I have never heard a great referral, job or client being made in a 15-minute conversation.”

How does social networking fit in?

Levi also reminds us that building a valuable network can only be done in person. “Internet-based networking, through sites like LinkedIn, is an important validating resource. But you cannot make a personal connection with someone simply by ‘friending’ them online.”

Who has the time?

Levi says that one of the things she enjoys most about her professional life is meeting interesting people and learning about them. I think that holds true for all of us. While our professional and personal lives make time one of our most precious commodities, dedicating some time to networking actually allows us to get what we need more efficiently.

I’m sure all of us can recall instances where this has proven to be the case. In addition to representing a source for new business referrals, colleagues in our network often becomes the “go to” expert we needed for effectively and efficiently obtaining essential information or advice.

In fact, the opportunities for developing these relationships earn some of the highest scores in the conference assessment forms we get from Media Finance Focus attendees. They cite examples where conversations with industry colleagues they met during the conference have led to relationships that have helped them to make valuable contributions in their current positions as well as provide counsel and assistance that has been vital to advancing their careers.

As Levi concluded and I wholeheartedly agree, “So, who has the time?  In my opinion, who doesn’t?”


Mary M. Collins is president & CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. Her column appears in TVNewsCheck every other week. You can read her earlier columns here.