Matthew Stafford (Weekend Executive MBA 2010), is a serial entrepreneur with extensive business experience. He has faith in the old mantra that ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ and indeed one of his business models is based on this. Here he talks about his experience of networking and why it is such an essential business skill:
“In the run-up to starting your postgraduate study you will likely be told that ‘Your network is the most valuable thing you will leave with’. I was certainly told that. Nonsense! At least that’s what I thought during my induction week in 2008… Paying rather a lot of money for lectures, case studies, and a study tour to China as well as giving up almost 2 years of my life to studying, I hoped I would learn a lot more than who my classmates were. Well, that was certainly an education. Everything I do now is a result of having built a good network. Although I think that’s the wrong word – having a ‘network’ to me sounds like something very transactional – something I can take from, something others will give me. I prefer ‘building relationships’ – that’s much more win-win, collaborative and give-and-take, which is how you need to think.
“Since graduating from Imperial College Business School in 2010 I have co-founded 9others and Dot Matrix Group. 9others was started as a side project, but has grown into an international network of over 4,000 people with hosts running events in 43 cities around the world, solving challenges through collaborative and innovative thinking. That’s not what I set out to do, but in doing it have realised the value of helping others, giving more than I take and how those relationships now drive everything I do.
Like relationships with your partner, closest friends and relatives, building relationships for business, whether at the Business School or at work, takes a long time. And so it should – relationships can be so valuable.
“A huge inspiration for 9others is Roland Rudd who said: “I have always regarded entertaining as a vital and underrated part of business – especially when times are tough. After all, forging and building relationships is really what business is all about. And there’s no better way to take a relationship to the next level than a good meal in the right setting.
“So from a networking sceptic to someone who’s built a business on it, here are some of my real-life tips on how to effectively network:
- Be a giver, not a taker. Give 10 times before you ask for anything in return. This is your contribution to a conversation – do you have a friend or colleague who has overcome a similar challenge? Introduce them. Have you read an article or blog post that will help give perspective? Send it.
- Don’t look for a magic wand of an app that claims to be a shortcut to building relationships. Apps can indeed be a helpful way of finding people, but still nothing beats getting to know someone over time. A snapshot on a profile is a start, but to really learn about someone you need to understand their successes, challenges and the context behind what they’re doing and why.
- Diversify. Your classroom is a good place to start your network, but don’t be restrictive. Remember you can learn a lot from a diverse network – imagine gaining insights on culture, money, sales strategy and the future from a Rabbi, a soldier, a FTSE CEO and someone who drives for Uber.
- Start small. You can’t jump from nothing to a trusted network of hundreds so don’t try (even if an app says you can). Have a ‘meetings day’ each week when you buy coffee for 5 people – see how you can help them, follow up with that, and all you ask for in return is an introduction to someone they find interesting.
- Cross town. To get ahead you need to do things that others won’t. What will you do that your competition (for grades, jobs, money) won’t do? There are enough networking events in East London that you can have free beer and pizza every night of the week. If your classmates say, “Yeah, but we’re in South Ken…” then you know you’re onto something.
- Once a week email someone from years ago. Using no more than two lines reply to an old email thread and share something they’ll find useful.
- Keep a checklist. All these actions above needs discipline and consistency behind the scenes so have a simple checklist of what you want to do each week when it comes to building your network (meetings, old emails, adding random value). Tick them off each week.
- Go to lots of events – you may find some are rubbish! Many networking events are sponsored so you won’t have to pay and you can eat and drink to your heart’s content. If you go to a lot of events each week then you’ll naturally find out which ones you like and which you don’t. Then keep going to the good ones. That sounds obvious, but here’s why you need to keep going – the first few times no one will know you or know what you do or what you can help with. Keep going and you’ll get to meet the regulars – then they’ll start to remember you, remember what you do and you can start being useful to them. That also leads to…
- Get to know the organisers. Once you’re a regular then you can start being useful to the organisers of the event – help spread the word, get speakers, drinks sponsors. They’ll be grateful forever.
- If you don’t see something you like, start it. Hosting an event is hardly an original idea so if you can’t find one that you like then start your own. Maybe it’s a Business School coffee morning for MBAs all over London or perhaps a roundtable discussion about a particular career post-study. Don’t let what’s already happening restrict you from being creative. Building a solid, trusted and diverse network takes time. A long time. So don’t try to rush it, but do start – starting last year was probably ideal but starting tomorrow is too late. Start today. Now. (Hint: point 6, above, is easiest to start right now).
“And with that in mind, I’d like to help you if at all possible – please email me with a challenge you have or an opportunity you’d like to grasp – I might just know someone who can help.” Email Matthew on: firstname.lastname@example.org