I've never found networking events to be particularly productive in the consulting business. I'd rather be getting to know potential clients than other consultants or professional service providers. If the goal is to build our consulting firm, shouldn't we focus on clients?
Networking is taken as an article of faith among consultants - as well as other professional service providers and business people of all stripes. You may be asking the important questions in reverse order. The third question is how valuable is networking; the second question is what do you mean by networking; the first question is what is the objective of networking.
Robert Kiyosaki, author of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad
, says "The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work." HIs point is that, regardless of the size or breadth of your consulting practice, the pace, complexity and uncertainty of the business environment means that you will increasingly need fresh relationships, resources, and information sources to thrive. A few colleagues or data sources are no longer sufficient to give you what you need. This is what networks are for.
The next question of what networking is should not focus on "networking events." Regardless of how well these are designed, they are largely semi-structured aggregations of people who, if you are lucky, can connect with each other. This may be what most people mean when they say networking but it is not the same as building a network. This requires defining the people, information, skills, resources and access necessary to keep you current with trends in your industry and discipline. A network is defined, explicit, and intentional. It is also continuously redefined. The final question, how valuable it is, can be answered in terms of how critical the network(s) are to your professional (and personal) growth. How damaging to your business is a loss of prospects, partners or revenues when the market changes, key staff leave or technologies or competitors devastate your market? Your networks are your safety valves. We can never have too many networks, and few consultants have enough.Tip:
Start by defining what you need to be agile in your business, to anticipate and respond to emerging trends. Like making a packing list for a trip, write down what you need to have and be over the next five years? What people or skills do you need to acquire theme? What different networks do you need to develop or strengthen - you may need 5-10 different networks? What is your plan to build, support and evaluate the effectiveness of those networks? How do you intend to not just connect others into your network, but to connect to other networks? The LinkedIn model of a "network of networks" is a good way to look at your own networking approach. Finally, since you don't know what you will need a few years from now, how will you build your networks so you have access to that which you think you don't need?© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA