Business networking can reap major rewards for employees and organisations alike. It’s an easy, cost-effective way for employers to spread the word about their business, and employees to spread the word about their skillset. Over six in ten UK employees (61%) have gotten a job through someone they know, illustrating how important business networking can be to the individual. 8 in 10 (78%) see networking as important to their career development. Despite these facts, almost half of British workers (46%) say they never get out of their office chairs and network.
The Current Situation
UK workers are currently under-utilising business networking opportunities. Almost half (46%) never network. Those who do network do so irregularly. Just 4% say they do some form of networking day-to-day, only one in five (21%) do so once a week or more. This is despite many working people (78%) recognising the importance of networking, and 61% of workers finding jobs through someone in their network.
To find out why there is such a large deficit between those who see networking as important and those who actually network, we asked people what put them off networking. The following were cited as common barriers:
- Lack of time: 29%
- Lack of events near them: 20%
- Nervousness: 19%
- Lack of money: 18%
- Don’t see it as important: 15%
A number of these issues can be partially resolved through support from employers. When quizzed about employer support available to them, it was revealed that over half of workers (54%) receive no networking support from employers. Just one in five (22%) are allowed paid time to attend conferences and networking events, despite the benefits doing so can bring to their company. The most common methods of employer support for networking are:
- Paid time: 22%
- Unpaid time: 13%
- Expenses: 18%
- Internal events hosted by employer: 15%
- External events hosted by employer: 7%
What is Business Networking?
Business networking can be extended to cover a large range of activities that involve meeting business contacts or discussing work. This can include anything from attending scheduled networking events and conferences to posting work-related news on social media, it can even be as simple as discussing work with friends and family.
Increasing understanding of what business networking is and where opportunities exist can help people better take advantage of them. Currently, just 47% of workers in the UK see professional conferences as an opportunity to network. Conferences are the ideal place to network. You are surrounded by like-minded people from your industry, who have gathered together to expand their knowledge. Talking to other people and learning about different industries and new practices makes up a core part of this.
Other important networking opportunities are even less recognised than this. Less than one in five workers (17%) see talking about work with friends as a networking opportunity. This is despite almost one-third of us (29%) having gotten a job through a friend, clearly showing they can be useful business contacts.
Few people recognise the opportunity that job interviews present for expanding business networks. Job interviews often give you an audience with senior staff members at important organisations in your industry. Even if you’re not successful in the interview, engaging with the panel for feedback can begin a line of communication you can later use for advice about other positions and applications.
Helping people understand the value of all business networking opportunities will help them improve their own network and further reap the benefits of doing so.
How Does Business Networking Help your Business?
Business networking brings benefits for organisations, as well as individuals. As your employees expand their network, they will meet people in your industry who will be useful contacts for you. These can range from new suppliers, investors and clients, to potential employees and partners. Encouraging employees to network is an incredibly cost-effective way of increasing brand awareness among key stakeholders in your industry.
How Can Employers Support Networking?
If you are looking for ways to increase the benefits of networking for your employees and organisation, look at applying some of the following in your business:
Educate your staff: Set up short introductory or skills sessions for your staff about when, where and how to network. By expanding their understanding of networking, they’ll recognise more opportunities for championing their work and your business.
Investing in networking: Two of the biggest barriers for workers when it comes to networking are time and cost. You can assist with both by giving paid time in the working day to attend events that offer networking opportunities, and by covering basic expenses. To get the most out of these investments, identify events that don’t just centre around networking. Talks, seminars, conferences and training days all offer opportunities for education alongside networking.
Organise events: Networking can be daunting. Especially when you’re somewhere new with entirely new people. To get your staff more adept at building successful professional relationships, start closer to home. Organise networking or mixer events across your company to bring people together and get them talking to someone new. This should mean better communication in your workplace and greater confidence for your employees when networking. You could even invite external speakers or guests to gradually introduce new people to your employees’ network.
It’s important to get people networking more, so they are making the most of their time both for themselves, and their organisations. With some prompting from employers, more people will be empowered to seize networking opportunities.