Since 2016, I have been invited to speak to the staff of Heirs Holding Group and the Tony Elumelu Foundation on “Networking for Results” as part of their quarterly induction programme for new employees. The sessions have generated a lot of discussion and I thought to share some extracts from the presentation.
Networking is a process that fosters the exchange of information and ideas among individuals or groups that share common interests. Networking may fall into one of two categories: social or business.
The focus of my article is on Business Networking
Back in February 2013, I had held a brief meeting with the then CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation and learnt about its Founder, Tony O. Elumelu. I returned to the UK and filed the business card and notes of my meeting. In March 2014, I was looking to make a career change and had made a list of Foundations I thought could use my skills and experience. On top of my list was the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
On the 31st March, I wrote an email to him making a pitch to consider my offer to serve as an Advisory Board member to the Foundation. That email changed my life!
I met Tony Elumelu on the 11th April and on the 24th April, I was behind a desk in the Foundation’s offices in Lagos as the Director of Entrepreneurship. The rest, as they, is history.
The point of this story: you never know when a connection is made and where it might lead.
Before I made the move to working for a Foundation, my professional career has been in the UK media and entertainment industry. If there’s one industry where people know the value of networking, its entertainment. Be it for landing a job or making new business contacts, networking is one of the key tools which helped me to sustain a career spanning the length of over 20 years in the industry.
For me networking was not just a work style, it was a lifestyle and it was integrated into my work and life. Face to face interaction matters, because this industry is based on who you know and not just what you know. Working in the media and entertainment industry has taught me: be active, be there, be persistent, follow up and follow through, which are all key to successful networking.
The networks I established enabled me to move from a decade long career in the arts to film and TV production working with writers, directors, actors, broadcasters for over two decades.
This was followed by a move to Film Finance working with HNI, bankers, lawyers, accountants, family offices, financial institutions, talent agents, producers, government agencies, distribution and sales agents to raise investment funds for the creative industries. Eventually, I ended up setting up my own consultancy company focused on connecting the UK creative industries to opportunities in the Emerging Markets. The same could hold true in your field.
Since joining the Foundation in April 2014, my network has been expanded to include: Entrepreneurs, Enterprise Development Agencies, Impact Investing, Incubators, Hubs, Academic Institutions, Investors (VC, PE, Angels), Financial institutions and Foundations. At the Tony Elumelu Foundation, I have helped to build Africa’s largest network of start-ups, mentors, investors, and the wider entrepreneurship ecosystem.
As the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, networking has helped to raise awareness, share our story and change the narrative about the work of the Foundation through attendance at conferences, summits, forums across Nigeria, Africa, and the world. Through networking, we have built business contacts with the entrepreneurial ecosystem across Africa and the globe. These contacts are nurtured into business relationships leading to value adding partnerships for the organisation.
Networking is important for business growth, career progression, skills and knowledge development. A few people are natural networkers as most have to work at it to overcome their fears, lack of knowledge or purpose.
For effective networking, always have a self-introduction keyed to the function you’re attending because how you introduce yourself at a party is very different than how you’d introduce yourself at a Chamber of Commerce event.
My introduction goes something like this:
I work for an organisation, based in Lagos Nigeria, who is empowering 10,000 African start-ups across 54 African countries with training, mentoring, networking, and funding.
They immediately want to know more. Who?
The Tony Elumelu Foundation.
$100 million commitment from Mr. Tony Elumelu, a businessman.
Is Lagos safe?
Well, I am standing in front of you, so yes, it is safe!
At this point in the conversation, the individual is hooked and wants to introduce me to so many people in the room.
Never begin interacting with new people by giving them the title of your job – because then they have already put you in a box. The key to good conversation is making observations, listening to what they are saying, asking questions, and revealing something about yourself. The magic is in the mix and you never know when a connection is going to be made.
A study of members of staff at a range of German workplaces carried out over three years by a University in Germany, found a positive correlation between the amount of effort the workers put into building contacts—inside and outside their offices—and their pay rises and career satisfaction.
“Networking can be considered an investment that pays off in the future,” it concludes.
Networking is like exercise and dieting. You need to incorporate it into your daily routine making it a natural extension of your behaviour. It is a something that you work hard at and success comes from having a well-stocked mind.
Conduct your research in advance on the most important people who will be at that conference, summit or that meeting. Attend the main sessions, ask sensible questions and if you manage to meet them, follow up with an e-mail and add them to your Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media platforms.
Set up a networking management system to track all your calls, contacts, and follow-up commitments; build contacts of information and influential networks in your business sector. Join offline and online networks in your industry, or better still create your own network!
In 1971, Klaus Schwab was a 32-year-old business professor who might have spent his life publishing obscure academic articles. But instead, Mr Schwab organised a meeting of European Executives, which grew into the World Economic Forum. Today, it has an annual budget of $200m, and more than 2,500 of the world’s busiest people fly out to the small Swiss resort of Davos each year proving that face to face contact ultimately matters even in a world connected by technology. Also worthy of note is Reid Hoffman who has become a billionaire by investing in a series of companies that have brought networking to the masses – LinkedIn!
Over the decades, I have been a member of or helped found several networks: UKTiE; Cultural Diversity Network, Asian Women’s Network, Women in Film & Television Network, Ingenious Media Creative Industries Network, UK India Business Network (UKIBC), Mayfair Media Club, many of which are active today.
In today’s knowledge economy, networking is not an option, it is a fundamental skill you need for your business growth and career progression. It is an investment in your business and will yield results.