At first glance, networking and training don't have a great deal in common. Scratch a little deeper though, and you'll find that the keys to making either successful are similar.
Now, I've been in training for over 20 years, so feel quite confident about what does and does not bring benefits to the bottom line. Networking on the other hand, is something I've only been doing for a couple of years. It's only now that I've started to see similarities between the two. So, if you want training OR networking to have an impact on your bottom line, here are my observations:
- Good training is planned, and so is good networking. Good training doesn't just happen. It is carefully linked to business needs and designed to fit specific gaps that people have in their knowledge or skills. When companies send Joe Blaggs on training course at the last minute because John Doe can't make it, they might was well just throw the money away. Likewise with networking...it will only work if you know why you are going, the type of people you want to meet, and have given thought to how you are going to approach the event. Good events will provide a list of attendees either in advance or on the day. Simply turning up and waiting for people to talk to you is unlikely to bring good results. Nor is going to networking events where the 'wrong' sort of people for your business will be.
- Good training is well-managed, and so is good networking. I hate networking events where you are just thrown into a room and expected to get on with it. I like an introduction, a rough timetable, and for the host to make thoughtful introductions between people. Networking events with a theme are good, because even if you don't meet anyone immediately useful, you will probably learn something you can use. Good training is structured yet flexible to meet the demands of those attending. It helps to make sure that everyone comes away feeling that they have spent their time wisely.
- Good training is participative, and so is good networking. People learn more when they are actively engaged discussing, practising or getting involved in some other way. Networking works on similar priciples: it is about building relationships through conversation, NOT about swapping business cards and making elevator speeches. Focus on how you can apply your learning from training, and how you can HELP people you meet at networking events. What goes around comes around.
- Good training is followed up, and so is good networking. One of the most frustrating thing about training is that people leave the event with great intentions, and then do nothing differently as a result. real-life catches up with you. If you don't put into practice what you have learned on a training event, nothing will change. Contacts made at networking events must also be followed up. A 15 minute conversation is only the START of the relationship... it isn't the relationship. We only do business with those we know, like and trust. You can't do these things after one meeting, so think about how you are going to follow up and develop the relationship.
- Good training is ongoing, and so is good networking. There's a model well known to trainers called the Conscious Competence Model, which says that we go through (quite a painful) learning curve, but once we get good at something, we tend to work on 'autopilot', no longer thinking about what we are doing, how or why. At this stage, it is easy to fall into bad habits or get sloppy, so regular training (or coaching) helps to keep us at the top of our game. Similarly, you can't hope to get results from networking if you only go once. It all links back to the relationship building... maybe after 6 months, people will know, like and trust you enough to introduce you to potential customers or become customers themselves.
Training, like networking, is not a 'quick fix' for your business. Both can be incredibly useful and give tangible results on your bottom line, but only if you are in it for the long haul, AND you do it right.