Learning to network

Sceptic’s Guide

The Sceptic’s Guide to Risk-Free Online Business Networking

Unwelcome attention and unwanted exposure

Social media and social networks could waste so much of your time. Also there are some things you don’t want the whole world to know about you. And the last thing you want is some salesman spamming you with rubbish just because they found your email address through some site or search engine.

But what about that girl you worked with, Sally Smith, who was the best project coordinator you had ever worked with. Now you’re looking for someone with the kind of skills and experience she has, but where is she now? And old Jonny Jones who you loved having lunch with, you shared so much in common – since he changed jobs and city whilst you were on secondment last year you just lost touch. And now that your director is moving on to a new company, even though you’re not one of her golfing buddies, you did some great work for her, so you’d still like to keep track in case she might be able to help you find a new role in future years.

Did you know that you CAN have your cake, AND eat it?

Professional networking

The ‘social’ networking site LinkedIn is primarily focussed on people’s professional profile (rather than their social life) and it is set up to allow members to discover skills, resources or individual people they are looking for. One of the great things about it is that YOU are in control of how much information you share about yourself.

If you want, you can use the system with a bare minimum of information. You can simply enter your name, and tell LinkedIn that you do not want to have a public profile. The email address you enter during registration is never published, but just used to send you messages when someone tries to get in touch. However, in order to get in touch someone either needs to know your email address already, or ask someone you know already to refer them on to you.

You can be very granular about what you allow other people in the system to see about you, and you can simply not bother to enter information you want no-one to know. As time goes on, you may choose to record a list of when you were at which companies, because then the system will help you get back in touch with them – but only if you want. You retain complete control of the way you choose to use the system – and the parts you choose not to use.

And the thing about business networking online is that it has nothing to do with conferences or events where smooth-talking shiny-suited folk bore you to death before foisting their business cards onto you. You don’t have to worry about being presentable or articulate, or having to meet strangers and being forced to talk to them. Its not about strangers – it’s just about people you already know, and that you already trust. And once you’ve taken a few minutes to set it up, it’s something you can use when you want, as much or as little as you want.

Degrees of connection

The main focus of LinkedIn is people you know and trust, or have enjoyed working with. Beyond that, people they know (“friends of friends”) and it goes as far as third degree connections. If you are looking to find someone, or a person with particular skills, or who works in a particular company, as long as you know someone who knows someone who knows that person, you have a way of getting in touch with them through that chain of trust. However it requires each link’s consent, which is why you have little risk making connections in LinkedIn, because you only link to people you already know and trust.

Although its up to you how much you use the system, according to how much you want to get out of it, you should bear in mind the organic nature of online business networks. Your network, like your garden, takes time to grow – planting a seed this morning will not help you eat fresh tomatoes this lunchtime. You need to put effort into your network before you find yourself in a position where you want to gather its fruits. However “nurturing your professional network” can actually be as simple as being kind and respectful to people you work with. And making sure you don’t loose touch…

You can make those connections the quick and easy way with LinkedIn – a very small investment today that will grow until the day you find your pantry bare, and want to turn to someone you trust to help you out…

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