In our work with thousands of contractors every year at Icon Accounting, we see first hand how the greater independence, better pay and improved career trajectory is a no brainer for more and more professionals every year.
While virtual work has brought positive changes to the nature of work, one area it hasn’t helped with is networking. It’s all too easy to keep our heads down, stick to the work at hand and miss the spontaneity that an office or traditional workplace setting can bring. That’s why at Icon we recommend an active approach to networking.
Networking can often get a bad reputation as wasted time accumulating businesses cards and looking for hand outs.
In reality, networking is simply about building valuable relationships. Real relationships are built with mutual respect, shared values and a willingness to help others.
Identify what you want to achieve from networking
With so many benefits to expanding your network, it’s important to get clear on the areas you feel are most important for you to improve on. For example, networking can be used to:
- Attract new clients - This is the biggest goal for most businesses. Instead of waiting until you’re looking to make a change, it’s always worthwhile to plant some seeds in the form of new relationship building before you need to harvest. Ireland is a small place, so don’t undervalue the 2nd and 3rd degree connections that can come about by expanding your network.
- Gain credibility - Having an opportunity to showcase your skillset can help position you as a trusted expert in your area of expertise. This applies equally if you’re just getting started or a seasoned professional with years of experience.
- Stay up to date - Networking keeps you in contact with other professionals in your field, and with that, keeps you exposed to new ideas that improve your own skillset and increase the value you can bring to clients.
Start by Providing Value Yourself
While you may have some clarity on what you’d like from networking, it’s important to not be guided by pure self interest. The mark of a good networker isn’t someone showing up looking for favours. Try to provide value up front and that’ll often be reciprocated. In the business classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie talks about 6 of the fundamental techniques to building relationships:
- Become genuinely interested in other people.
- Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
- Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
- Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
One of the best ways to be interesting is to be interested. Building meaningful relationships starts with being curious and trying to understand why others do what they do.
Take a look at your existing network
It’s important to meet new people to expand your network, but don’t be afraid to start with those who you already know. Linkedin makes this easy, with a sortable list of all your connections, as well as others who ended up in there at some point! Try making a conscious effort to reconnect with 5,10 or 15 of your connections list each week with a quick message, all while being helpful. Allocate this time in the calendar to keep you accountable when other work gets in the way.
Make sure to ask your best clients for referrals consistently, as they’ll often have their own network of likeminded people who in turn could become clients.
Seek out mentors
As famed investor Charlie Munger says, try to learn from other people’s mistakes instead of your own. Mentors are a great way to do this. This can sometimes feel intimidating but in many cases, potential mentors don’t receive as many of these requests as you might think. Try to find an area of common interest and use that as a starting point.
If you’ve a sense of where you’d like your future career path to go, try to find those who are already further down that same path. Linkedin is also a great tool to do this.
Join co-working spaces
Many of our clients have found co-working spaces are an incredible resource, not only providing a creative setting for work, but a way to grow your network. There are over 300 co-working hubs across Ireland, so whether you’re in a major city or a smaller town there is plenty of choice, partly thanks to the recent government investments in coworking in rural areas.
Coworking spaces not only offer a shared workspace to spark conversation with those around you, but also offer a host of community events, talks, social activities and networking opportunities.
Attend networking groups and events
You’ll also have a more traditional way of networking with events. This may be facilitated by an industry association, companies in your sector of expertise or a local chamber of commerce. Try to make the most of these events by doing some research in advance.
If there is an event page, try to take a look at those who have RSVP’ed. Use Linkedin to research their background and see who it’d be worth getting to know.
Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups and slack groups are all ways to keep an ongoing dialogue with other professionals in your industry. Try to be helpful asking questions or tagging others in your own network who may be able to help.
Last but not least, thought leader in management Peter Drucker once said “what’s gets measured, gets managed”. Try to take note of some weekly or monthly actions you can take to expand your network and hold yourself accountable.
If you are a professional that is interested in hearing more about the benefits of working as an Independent Professional in Ireland, please reach out to our team by emailing email@example.com or by calling 01-8077106.