Networking for Growth

Blog entry
Cherry Parker

In May 2013, the Big Venture Challenge (BVC) launches.  Its aim is to help ambitious social entrepreneurs to raise investment and scale their ventures. The Shaftesbury Partnership is a delivery partner to BVC, supporting the entrepreneurs to build high-impact networks that will accelerate their scaling. I will be one of the Network Facilitators working with the social entrepreneurs.

Becoming an effective networker is among the key challenges of leadership and as part of our ongoing relationship with Big Venture Challenge winners over the coming 12 months, the Network Facilitators will be exploring and blogging all things networking.

In this first blog, I interviewed Chris Mould, partner at The Shaftesbury Partnership, about his  personal experience and views of networking. Chris, who is also Executive Chairman of the Trussell Trust, has used networking to great effect in scaling the charity's Foodbank network to over 350 outlets.

When did you first see the power of networking?

It was in my first job, in the NHS, when I saw senior colleagues were  making better decisions by talking to their contacts. I wish I'd realised the value of effective networking before, while I was at university.

How would you describe your networking style?

I am curious about others, particularly people with a breadth of interest. I also believe that every connection has value. It's important to invest in a relationship and it's also worth reflecting on the idea that of a giver's gain. Ask what you can do for them.

What does poor networking look like?

It's fundamentally not about what you can get and it's not about spreading yourself around. I see someone working a room and I feel it's distasteful. I'm also sure it has no long-term impact.

How do you gain value from your network?

Sometimes interesting things happen if you bring together diverse contacts. I think it can be helpful to challenge yourself by asking how many steps and routes you have to connect to someone way outside your normal sphere, such as a nuclear physicist. Good networkers have breadth and depth in the people they know.

What would you say to a social entrepreneur who doesn't make networking a priority?

It should be a priority. If done properly, it can help a business to improve its services and scale up sustainably. Effective networkers are strategic and nurture long-term relationships that add real value.

For those who feel they need help with networking, what are your top tips for getting started?

It's important to have confidence and to know for sure that you yourself are a valid and interesting person.
It's helps to be opportunistic. I've met key contacts by accident on the train. If a conversation is going well, take it further.
It's important to be organised. There are lots of useful tools out there that can help.
It's critical to reflect on how you're doing, either alone or with a coach or mentor.

Cherry ParkerCherry has over 15 years’ experience working in strategic communications and management. She is a trained coach and has a postgraduate diploma in Social Marketing from the University of Brighton.  She lives in Greenwich with her husband and young son and is currently setting up a local time bank.

Follow us on Twitter: @CherryParker, @ShaftesburyPshp, @BigVentureChall

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