Everyone knows networking is a skill. But it’s not just about elevator pitches and working a room. Where you network is just as important if you want to meet - or e-meet - the right people. Here’s where all the action is.
Nowadays no respectable professional would be caught dead without a LinkedIn profile and a sizeable pool of ‘Connections’. Research from accountancy PR specialists Kelso Consulting shows the number of LinkedIn users in a typical top 50 accountancy firm increased by over 27% in 2012.
“LinkedIn’s B2B environment allows you to easily double or triple your contact base, often by connecting with people you’d never meet in person,” says Holly Tyzack, account director at professional services PR agency Rostrum Communications. Others use it to nurture relationships that have begun at local events. “Networking in person could be a full-time job otherwise,” says Ed Gooderham, director at Green & Co Accountants.
Then there are LinkedIn groups. Among the most active are the main ICAEW group (over 14,890 members and 80 discussions this month) and the Audit and Finance Careers Network (13,540 members, 170 discussions). On top of this, there are groups relevant to clients, industries and thought leaders.
“The more groups you join the better as you are more visible,” says Tyzack.
Most accountants are now also on Twitter, and many use it regularly to communicate their news and views. “We also follow sources such as @ICAEW and @fsb_hq, and use hashtags to engage in conversations with clients,” says Gooderham.
As for Facebook, professionals have traditionally considered it less useful, but this may soon change. Launched in Beta earlier this year, the new Graph Search functionality will let users mine Facebook for information about their ‘friends’ by using structured queries such as ‘Friends who like x’.
“This will allow for highly targeted marketing,” says Nicola Mitchell, managing director of financial PR consultancy Mitchell Moneypenny.
In person networking is far from dead though, and handing out business cards in the old-fashioned way still pays. According to research from online print company MOO, each 100 cards handed out generates at least £5,000 a year in revenue, costing from as little as £30. Time cost is another matter, but Gooderham believes the 15% of every week that he spends networking is worth it: “We get a large percentage of clients from referrals, and the majority of these originate from networking.”
There are now more events targeted at finance professionals than ever before. ICAEW events centre lists over 50 networking meetings taking place across the UK in the next three to six months, typically members’ discussion groups, business updates with guest speakers, annual awards and dinners, and charity quizzes.
“Also check out your local chamber of commerce, regional CBI network and events run by other organisations,” says Karen Young, director at Hays Senior Finance. “At Hays Senior Finance, for example, we host annual finance leadership forums across the UK.”
Not all events make for good networks. “The elite networks for senior people that are closed to those further down the professional chain stifle creativity,” says Young.
A recent report from equality campaign Counting Women In confirms low numbers of female senior managers (women take just 17.3% of FTSE100 director positions and 11.1% of UK banks’ CEO positions), yet business networks ‘for women only’ are thriving. For example, the Women's Business Clubs boasts a national community of over 30,000.
Critics point out that, by excluding 50% of the business population, these networks shut the door on business opportunities, but this is where women can gain realistic role models, says Pinky Lilani, founder of the Women of the Future Awards and the Asian Women of Achievement Awards. “Women learn how to progress in their careers by connecting with other women who have already done that and got the executive title to prove it,” she says.
However, men aren’t completely excluded. “Sir Nicholas Young, the CEO of the British Red Cross, Richard Reid, the London Chairman of KPMG and Chris Sullivan, the CEO Corporate Banking at RBS, are just some of the many men who have supported or sponsored our programmes,” says Lilani.
Wine & dine
Opinions are divided whether this is still done and if it works. “Most professionals are now too busy or cost-conscious for lunch meetings,” says Mitchell. Gooderham disagrees: “If you’re going to have a two-hour meeting discussing accounts or tax, you might as well enjoy yourself whilst doing it,” he says.
But any big corporate events with lavish entertainment are now definitely a thing of the past, says Mitchell, “unless you are a dinosaur.”
Finally, trying something new is the flavour of the moment. “As a foodie, my wok is my strongest weapon and I often host networking events at home,” says Lilani. “Cooking Bombay potatoes really increases my networks.” Tyzack has taken her clients to the cinema, to cocktail-making and even for a nail appointment. “I’ve also heard about people 'going out for a walk' to discuss business,” she says.
“Networking can be as simple as a walk in the park.”