12 November 2020|Business Growth, Latest Posts, Psychology
By Vonnie Alexander. This year of all years I have realised the importance of networking. I have looked at what happened to my business since Covid struck and I realised that my whole career to date has been leading me to here.
I am self-employed and didn’t qualify for any government support. In March when lockdown happened some fairly chunky contracts “evaporated”. It was understandable. Everyone was in self-preservation mode, battonning down the hatches and making sure that their businesses and staff were going to be ok or furloughed or, in the worst of cases, made redundant.
As the work disappeared and with two youngish children at home, I decided that I would focus on the children and home-schooling! A pandemic is not something I had planned for financially but between some savings and the value in my house I knew that we would be ok, that I would still put food on the table and that things could be so much worse. I knew that we were in this for a while and that we would survive – my business would come back or I could go back out to get a job when things picked up. So, this is not a sob story by any means. It is a reflection on what has happened since.
What started to happen is that work started appearing from here and there. Some of it was referral, some from existing clients whose needs had changed, and in some cases expanded, some came from former colleagues or employees. All of it came from known sources. None of it was prompted by any specific action I had taken. I have deliberately kept a very low new business profile. In the midst of all this chaos, my desire to work with a particular company, team or individual seemed a little irrelevant to say the least. With business development, timing and relevance is so important.
As I reflected on this a few days ago on my morning walk, I realised that my whole career I had been networking, and that this was the time it had best served me. It had all been unconscious. I had always tried to create and leave a good impression, to say a kind word, to be accepting, supportive, non-judgmental and not to burn any bridges. Without a doubt, I won’t have succeeded at that all of the time but, for the most part, I think I have tried to do the right thing in all my relationships. Be they former clients, employees, colleagues, suppliers or people I just met for coffee to do someone else a favour. It never mattered who they were, how far up or down the ladder they were, how “important” they might be; I always made time if I could. More than that, I am reminded that throughout my career what mattered was not so much what I said to people but how they felt after our meeting. Be genuine, sincere, authentic, interested.
Now, many of those people I met along the way are doing high powered jobs in organisations big and small and they have become my client base. They come from a range of sectors, backgrounds, disciplines. What we have at the beginning is trust. The rest grows from there. But I realised that networking is not about walking into a crowded room and talking to as many people you don’t know as possible. Or attending several events a week to show your face or work the space. Of course, it can be that, but it is so much more in reality.
It is about establishing relationships along the way, during your whole career, in my case some 25 years. Because at some point you might just find that unwittingly you have created a network that is so strong, so solid and so precious that it will deliver for you in the best and worst of times.
So, my word to the wise is this – don’t rush, and take your time to establish good relations with people throughout your career. Whatever they do, wherever they are in the hierarchy, make sure they remember you for the right reasons and that you remember to stay in touch. You never know when you might need them or they you. Ask yourself when you meet people how you can help them not what you can sell them. It will go a long long way.
I have enjoyed my best year yet in my coaching practice. I work with people and teams who want more out of life and are prepared to invest the time and energy to make it so. I am struck by how willing people are to adapt, to change and to reinvent themselves. And I realise that along the way, every interaction, every meeting, handshake (back in the day) or smile counted.
About the Author
Vonnie Alexander is the founder of Vonnie Alexander Executive and Leadership Coaching. With 20 years’ experience in marketing services, Vonnie co-founded marketing agency Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw which she later sold to the Publicis Groupe. Now a business leader and coach, Vonnie is a graduate of The Coaches Training Institute (CTI). She seeks to develop strong cultures, bring out the best of people and teams in a way that delivers a real impact and help them grow.