I’ll admit it: I only know one way to do business – to take the personal approach. I’ve always talked about how I think the only way to be truly successful is to deal with people, not companies, and that still stands. It’s a way of working that has led me into a huge number of fascinating business relationships – some fruitful, some not so, but all have been a valuable experience.
Talking to people, and being interested not just in their businesses but also their personal stories, has always come naturally to me – but I know it’s not something that everyone feels completely comfortable with. Networking for some people is a ‘necessary evil’ – just another job that they feel that they need to tick off their business development task list.
The power of relationship building
But it really doesn’t need to be like this. If you take the approach that I do – that networking is an opportunity not just to try and generate new business, but instead to build new relationships – it suddenly becomes a lot more interesting.
So much of what we do in our working lives is built on relationships, whether we know it or not. It’s a enduring truth, not just of the industries I work in, but also pretty much every other sector, that getting ahead in your career is as much about who you know, not what you know. This is particularly true in a creative environment like the one in which one of my businesses, OMNIA Entertainment operates. Places like Hollywood are a tangled web of connections, with new business relationships being formed on personal recommendations and by word of mouth.
And I don’t think this is a bad thing: if you’re good at your job, and people like to work with you, then you’ll get ahead in your career. Networking then is absolutely fundamental to making this kind of career building work, whether you’re trying to set up a new business, build a brand or go it alone as a freelancer. But how do you go about making sure that you make the most of any networking opportunity you find yourself in?
Look for unexpected opportunities
Well firstly, I’d recommend that you stop thinking of it as networking, or business development, or anything else that sounds forced and uncomfortable. If your experience of networking is awkward silences and stale sandwiches, then you’re putting yourself in the wrong situations. I’ve always taken the approach that actually every single day is a networking opportunity – and this feels natural if you think of it simply as relationship building. The trip you take down to your local cafe for lunch, the cab you share with a friend of a friend after an event, or the three hours you have to kill in an airport departure lounge are all opportunities to build new relationships.
The trick, I’ve found, is simply to be interested. Sure – talk about yourself – be honest and open about what you do, what you’d like to achieve in life and in business – but also listen. And while it’s important to have a clear intention behind what you want to gain from meeting new business contacts, don’t let that cloud any conversation you might be having.
So, be in the moment, listen carefully to the person you’ve just met, and most importantly show them that you’re interested in them. This for me is the absolute key – ultimately people like to feel that someone wants to form a business relationship with them, not with their company. By hearing their story, and sharing a bit of yours, you’re starting to do just that.