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Debbie Pierce

Networking: it's not what you know, it's who you know

Hilary Briggs of R2P, a profitable growth expert and author of Seven Ways to Ensure Your Business is a Success, offers some tips on improving the breadth and depth of your network.

"It's not what you know, it's who you know". If this is true (and it often appears to be) should your network be broad (lots and lots of people) or deep (fewer people, but stronger relationships)?

I am a firm believer in the law of reciprocity and have a wide network of contacts that can be of direct help but, more often, help to others I come across.

I'll explain how this works.

I met John at an Entrepreneurs World lunch event. He had many business interests, though my ears pricked up when he mentioned a TV business he was still connected with. I wondered if it might be an opportunity for a client of mine, who specialised in producing content. I connected them and six months later, Liz landed a deal with John.

In turn, I have benefited too: Monica, whom I met through Toastmasters International, wanted a speaker for an association dinner and liked my speaking style. During her event, I was sitting next to the managing director of a corporate finance house. We followed up this meeting and although I had a couple of potential contacts for him, nothing transpired - until eight months later, when I was involved with a project requiring £2.5 million in funding and he was able to offer great advice.

So no doubt, there are benefits to having a broad network of contacts. But what about depth? What comes from depth of a relationship is trust and confidence.

Secondly, there is the opportunity to use a closer-knit group with trusting relationships as a sounding board to thrash out challenging business issues - for instance, a de-merger or perhaps work-life balance issues that are so easily put to the bottom of the pile, or how to deal with a tricky employee situation.

I have found in talking to my many business contacts that they typically have people around them who they use for informal advice.

As one member of my ACE group, Bee Kemball, managing director of Debach Enterprises, said, "It really opened my eyes to witness the diverse approaches people would take to the same problem."

Bee has broadened her own management team during the last year as a result of this awareness.

I suggest you need both breadth and depth in your network. Here are some tips from to help you do this:

To increase breadth: Get talking to people! It can be just as effective through your hobbies, friends and family contacts, as well as striking up conversations with strangers - I won £2,500 worth of business from talking to a lady next to me on a train!

To increase depth: Think about what areas of expertise would really add to your current contacts and seek out a non-executive.

Finally, if you're considering joining a networking organisation, make sure the membership is diverse and that some structure exists for in-depth discussions. This way you will be able to develop both depth and breadth.

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