At its heart, networking involves meeting up with people in the hope that you will build profitable relationships with them. The emphasis is likely to be on building business relationships but social and even romantic ones could develop too I suppose. Many of the same principles apply whether you are networking online or in real life.

Richard White (author of the Networking Survival Guide) liked to think of networking as ‘net’ working. “We build up a network of useful connections and resources and at the same time we build a net in which land sales-leads in the same way that people use a net for fishing.”

The network that we build starts with those people who already know us and who think positively about us. It is worth remembering that it will invariably be easier to grow an existing network than to start one from scratch.

Those accountants who secure business as a result of their networking activity rarely do so after their initial attempts to network. Valuable business leads and opportunities typically only start to flow after new connections have grown to know, like and trust you. That takes time and invariably more than one or two meetings.

What networking is NOT

Many people, including many accountants, make the mistaken assumption that networking is all about ‘selling’. They couldn’t be more wrong. This is clearly very different from casting your ‘net’ for sales leads.

Many accountants who think networking is a waste of time do so because they started with an unrealistic expectation. Typically this is that their networking would enable them to immediately generate sales leads from the people they meet at networking events. As explained above, this is rarely going to happen in practice so any aspiration along these lines is doomed to disappoint.

I remember hearing once that a local Chamber of Commerce was suffering significant member ‘churn’.  This may be very common when everyone who joins and who attends their networking events is in sales mode. Imagine a room full of salespeople all trying to generate sales leads but none of them there to find suppliers or to buy anything. No wonder members were dissatisfied and leaving – only to be replaced by new members who would repeat the cycle.