A friend recently congratulated me on hosting a great film screening to raise money for a charity I work for.
‘Oh hardly any of that was me. I just have some really good friends,’ I said.
I wasn’t being falsely modest. The whole thing seemed to come together thanks to recommendations, suggestions and contacts from among my friendship group, who also turned up to support me on the night and told all their friends to come along too. All I did was show up in a dodgy pirate outfit and sell sweets on a stand (where it has to be said, I found my forte).
pics taken by my mate Graham / the official photographer http://grussellphotography.com
The friend I was talking to told me she had recently got a new job after being recommended for the position by her old tutor and friend. The job wasn’t within her usual range of experience and most of the people there had specific qualifications she didn’t have. One day, feeling down after being unsuccessful in an internal promotion exercise (she has since got a great new job!) she confessed that she felt she wasn’t good enough to work there,
‘The only reason I have this job in the first place is because I’m friends with you…’
To which her colleague (who I like to envisage as a wise Yoda-type mentor) replied,
‘Yes of course, you’re completely right. The only reason you’re here is because a senior member of the team was familiar with your work and impressed enough to put his reputation on the line in recommending you, despite lacking the specific qualifications usually required’.
His point of course was that being helped out by your friends isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength. Having friends who are willing to risk their reputation, go the extra mile for you, share their contacts, come straight to your event after work put on a daft Pirate hat and start DJ-ing, isn’t something you have nothing to do with, it’s something you should recognise and be proud of. These people are your network.
The word ‘networking’ makes me want to shrivel up and die. I’m convinced I can’t do it and if I’m honest, I don’t really want to – in my mind it’s associated with hard-eyed careerists whose eyes glaze over once they realise exactly how insignificant you are and then start to look over your shoulder while talking to you; the same people who state that they only check their emails twice a day, frequently ‘forget to eat’ lunch, and do angry yoga after work.
‘Friendworking’ is a term a friend of mine came up with when we were out for her birthday. Some of the people there worked in the industry I’d like to work in, so I said wanly that I supposed I’d have to ‘network’ with them, making networking sound something like amputating a limb. My friend was confused,
‘You’re really good with people though’.
‘Yeah but not networking, I can’t do networking.‘
Instead of telling me I was insane, because she is a good friend, she simply told me to forget about networking, be myself and try to make friends. By the end of the night I had an insight into working in the industry and several promises to come to my fundraiser. None of it had been forced or felt uncomfortable, and two weeks later they all actually came! Success!
Friendworking, the Rules:
- Don’t exhaust your network. Sure your friends like you, but they don’t worship you (well, some of them might but then the kindest thing to do is leave them alone till they get over it) and they have a lot of other things to do. So try to spread out your ‘asks’ and recognise when you should try and do something by yourself, or get a professional.
- Don’t lose friends. If you put enough pressure on people they’ll usually do what you want; whether they’ll still love you tomorrow is another matter. Be sensitive to your friend’s schedules and other commitments and don’t push too hard.
- Don’t try to network. Don’t go into an event with a wishlist of people with skills/contacts you need, just go in wanting to make friends with people you get along with and enjoy spending time with. Be yourself!
- Do talk about what you’re passionate about. Presumably you already do this with your friends, but sometimes it helps to spend some time thinking through what you actually want out of life. People have to know what you want before they can help you get it.
- Recognise everyone has different strengths. I can guarantee that each one of your friends has something to offer you. Frankly, why would you be friends with them otherwise? They might not work in your industry or have any great contacts but they could know people who do, or be the sort of person you can call up late at night when you’re having a panic attack that your film licence isn’t going to come through in time, for example…
- Be there for your friends. Friendworking goes both ways, that’s how it works. If your friends ask something of you, do your best to help them out. And don’t just use it as an opportunity to bring it back up the next time you ask a favour of them.
- Try not to ask. First tell them about the project or goal, it’s an oft-forgotten fact that people like helping other people; we get a kick out of being useful – it’s been scientifically proven. So if you tell your friends enthusiastically all about your new project or career plans, it’s likely they’ll be tripping over themselves to offer ways in which they can assist you. Another option, which a friend of mine recently did, is write your goal online, in a blog post or Facebook note. Put the word out, and see what happens.
- Always say thank you. Don’t take your friends for granted. They don’t have to help you! …Unless you have some incriminating childhood photos of them or something….
I hope this helps those of you out there who are as allergic to networking as I.
I’d like to hear more about how people use Twitter and Facebook for networking.. Will be asking one of our social guru friends to write a guest post about this soon…