It’s one of those words that people either love or hate
The thing is, to grow your business, and to create a successful career full of opportunities, you need to get to know lots of people. If those people are all pretty much the same as you, then you’re not going to find lots of new opportunities to learn from, and you’re going to miss perspectives and opinions from people who are different to you.
There’s a strong and proven business case that shows that people who are different to each other generate more new ideas, work more productively and make better and faster decisions. You will not agree with everything everyone says, but that’s the point. It’s about sharing different ideas and perspectives to help each other.
Merlie Calvert also said “You don’t always have to agree with every perspective, indeed, plenty of times, I haven’t! But listening, mulling over, taking inspiration from and most importantly, being open to a different point of view is incredibly valuable. No successful entrepreneur is an island and success comes as much from knowing the objections, reservations, scepticism, ideas, suggestions, interpretations and left-of-field envisioning that comes from contact with others who are different to you”
Where do you start though? It can feel so daunting to step outside of your comfort zone and talk to different types of people. So let’s have a look at 5 different ways to shake up your networking that will help you include people who are different to you.
1. Think about who you don’t know
We all naturally surround ourselves with people who are like us. We generally look for shared values, lives and perspectives in our friends and relationships so that we have things in common. We are drawn to people who remind us of ourselves. If we translate that into business relationships, it means that we are all at risk of surrounding ourselves with people who share the same ideas as us. That can easily create ‘group-think’, which is where no-one challenges the ideas you have. To do something about this, you need to be systematic about it. Sit down and think about what perspectives you are missing from your business network. Is it a perspective you’re missing? Or a skill-set, or perhaps it’s to do with business sectors or locations? Work out who you are missing in your current business relationships, and that will help you think about who you need to get to know.
2. Consider your strategy
When you have worked out who you want to get to know, then next you need to figure out how to get talking to them. The first thing to do is look at your connections and see if they know any of the people you want to get to know. Then ask them for introductions! There is great power in a personal recommendation or introduction to someone, and people are usually happy to introduce you to people they know. Most people like to be helpful, especially to other business founders. Then you need to look at business networking groups. There are groups for start-up founders, scale-up businesses, business networking groups, community groups, and so much more. A good place to start is your local Chamber of Commerce as most business groups are likely to be linked to them, and most business networking groups offer trials, so you can try out a meet up to see how you like it.
3. Be prepared to challenge, and be challenged
When you do get to know people who are different to you, there are going to be challenges and you will have different ideas to suggest to the people you meet. That’s the whole point, it’s about thinking differently. So you need to think about how you are going to take feedback about your ideas and business. It might be that you meet someone with a different perspective who challenges the way you think about something. This is about being open to those things. As Merlie Calvert says, “Being prepared and open-minded counts for much of the start-up survival battle”. There could be so many things you have not considered, which you will gain from talking to people who are different to you. You will need to be open to those challenges and look to learn from them.
4. Give as much as you receive
Successful networking is definitely a two-way street. As you seek out new connections, it’s important for you to offer something to people you meet. Take some time to work out what value you can offer to people. What skills you have that might help them, the perspectives you can offer and help you can give. Think about the connections you have and who you can introduce people to. There are so many ways in which you can help people when you network. For business founders, consider helping each other with feedback on your pitch, your marketing, or perhaps your recruitment. There are skills and technology you can help each other which in turn will help grow your businesses.
5. And enjoy it!
Although it might seem like a scary thing, this is fun! It’s about meeting different types of people to enrich your life. It’s about making business contacts who will make your work-life more interesting, more challenging and help you to think in different ways. When you network, most people are as scared about it as you, so be friendly and open to everyone you talk to. One of the keys to successful networking is to be interested in other people and offer to help them, where you can. When you do that, you find people are happy to help you too. It’s the way to a successful and diverse business network, and as Sallie Krawcheck, former Head of Bank Of America said:
Networking is the No. 1 unwritten rule of success in businessSallie Krawcheck, former Head of Bank Of America