Networking is often highlighted as being hugely beneficial in the school business management world – but mingling doesn’t come easily to everyone. After a year of staying at home it might be even harder to step outside of your (literal) bubble – so how you can thrive, going forward, in professional networking situations?
With face-to-face events returning after a year of lockdowns and social distancing, the opportunity to network and meet new professional contacts also returns. As the saying goes ‘No man is an island’, and our ability to communicate and co-operate with others is the key to many aspects of individual success. People are inherently social creatures, and we spend our lives forming many types of networks, whether these be with family, friends or professional connections. However, not everyone finds networking professionally easy.
A professional network can come in handy for all sorts of reasons – yet sometimes it can be hard to know who you should be reaching out to, how big your network should be, or how to get started with networking. When networking, think of the Wizard of Oz. You need to find your courage like the lion, find your brain like the scarecrow and find your heart like the tin man.
It can be intimidating to initiate a conversation with someone that you have never met before. However, finding the courage to approach someone may lead to them being able to benefit you in the future. They might be from a local recruitment company, a catering firm or a HR company – imagine, you might just meet someone who could provide you with a great deal.
Contacts also breed contacts and, once you have plucked up the courage to speak to someone, they may also be able to introduce you to other useful professionals. Even if you only feel brave enough to talk to one person, your network of professional contacts could still grow significantly.
A school business manger’s work can often be quite isolated, and this means that knowledge-sharing can be limited. Networking with professional contacts enables you to share your knowledge with them and, more importantly, they can share their knowledge with you. Being able to ‘pick the brains’ of a procurement, security or ICT expert will provide you with an expert insight into a sector which you may otherwise not have had experience of. Every day is a ‘school day’, and it is vital that you keep up with the latest developments and trends in each of the sectors you deal with.
Networking has been compared to going on a blind date – and some of the same rules apply. Successful networking is all about making meaningful connections; people want to feel that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. Keep good eye contact, smile, and ask relevant questions to highlight your interest. Do some research into who is likely to be in attendance, and prepare some starter questions in advance; this will help avoid any awkward silences which can occur when you aren’t sure what to say. If you already have a bank of questions ready to go, the dreaded silence should stay at bay.
So, once you’ve made the connection, what’s next after the event?
Gone are the days when business cards were the only way to communicate with a professional contact. If you get someone’s name, but in the moment forget to ask for their contact details, search them on LinkedIn after the event and re-introduce yourself – you made the initial connection in person, so don’t be afraid to follow it up with a connection on social media. Remember though, keep it professional; avoid contacting them through personal social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram.
Use the right etiquette
Be clear about the kind of response you want. Are you looking for advice or information? Do you want to know about upcoming opportunities, or the details of a contact of theirs? Do you want to meet them one-to-one? A focused, concise and respectful request is more likely to generate a helpful reply. Be persistent, but leave enough time (usually a week or so) between each follow-up.
So, what are you waiting for?
Put these tips into practice at our upcoming EdExec LIVE events in London (30th September) and Manchester (12th October). EdExec LIVE is an event specifically aimed at school business leaders and finance directors – an interactive learning and networking experience, quite different from other events currently on offer.
Join us and experience tangible, targeted, relevant information that makes a difference to your role and your school or academy. We have a stellar line-up of expert speakers confirmed, presenting on a broad range of school business management aspects.
This will be our tenth EdExec LIVE year and, after a decade of successful events, they only continue to grow in popularity and success. Email [email protected] to grab a ticket now!