Today, I view myself as well connected across the financial services sector. This is because I have always viewed the ability to mix easily and build real relationships with fellow professionals as a key element of working towards personal and business success.

Growing up, I was a bit of an introvert. I read a lot and whilst I loved the outdoors this was usually with a friend as opposed to within larger group activities. It wasn’t really until I joined the armed forces that I got into team sports and really began to understand wider relationship dynamics.

The whole of the military is something akin to a giant team sport. Lots of positions, competing and complementary skills and an overwhelming desire that is instilled to be the absolute best at what you do. I guess this was where I also began to properly learn networking. Lots of egos, abilities, skills and experience levels, as well as many different tribes all working within the same ecosystem necessitate learning how to connect and work well with people. In an occupation attuned to the use of violence, easy social skills avoided painful consequences.

The key skills learned there led me to port them into business and continue to work incredibly hard from the very beginning on building and truly valuing relationships in business.

Building a personal network takes a huge amount of time and effort based around being helpful, genuine and interested. It requires intent, purpose, and years of work.

In fact, for the best networkers it never ends. And I say this as someone who genuinely doesn’t and never did like networking groups and events.

Whilst the lessons learned are many, here are a few things I’ve learned about building and maintaining genuine professional relationship along the way.

 

Always be networking but don’t see it as networking
Set about networking with an eager, open mind but don’t view it as networking. Listen to others, be curious, work out how you may be able to help and offer to do so. Initially, I connected with everyone that crossed my path. After all, you never know who you could help, or who might be able to help you in some way down the line. In the same vein, don’t think of networking in narrow terms. I was an adviser but never stuck to just socialising with advisers. I felt that I was a more rounded adviser by mixing and listening to as many people as I could. In short, be eternally curious.

Be consistently engaged
It can be easier now with social media. For example, when you see an interesting article or social media post you think might appeal to someone you know, send it their way. Engage on social media, like or comment on the useful output of others. Of course, it depends on the dynamic and stage of each specific relationship – and this is more art than science – but it rarely hurts to simply reach out in a friendly way. The more you do it the more experience and confidence you gain. However, in the era of social media, and despite the latent introvert, I still favour connecting face to face. Colleagues over the year have heard my mantra off ace to face beats phone beats email many times.

Leave the self-interest and the self-interested behind
People very quickly spot the type. The self-interested taker. The type who is always asking but never giving. You know the type without me having to say more. Also beware the colleague or connection who is always trying to take advantage of your hard work. They are merely seeking to leverage your effort without contributing the same level of hard work in their own right. Be genuine when interacting and absolutely do not be looking for tangible or immediate benefits from the people in your network. Once you establish a broad network comprised of genuine connections, the benefits will come.

Constantly challenge yourself
I still remember the first time I had to present at a conference. Nervous does not begin to describe it and I was convinced I had done badly. Whilst it was hardly a Ted Talk it went down pretty well. If you are genuine in wishing to share something on stage, it is a pretty tough audience of peers that is not willing to listen. See each challenge met as a step on a ladder. From participation to a round table to presentation to a key note speech to a podcast to live TV. Every time I did TV I was left a soggy mess down the back of my shirt but it was incredibly valuable to my business so I kept doing it.

 

At the end of the day only you know how far up the ladder you wish to progress, but the more success you have the more people you will meet and help and the wider your network will grow.

But it’s always worth the effort.

Eventually, you’ll have someone to call on for virtually any business problem. You will be a mentor and find yourself being mentored. You will have met and continue to meet a large number of really interesting people and, probably by virtue of that, have become more knowledgeable, conversant, rounded and engaging too.

By Lee Robertson, CEO of Octo Members Group.

This article was originally posted on Nucleus Illuminate on 17 October 2019.