I have spent some time networking locally to get to know the people behind the SME’s in the area. It has been a really positive learning experience to reflect on, through listening to all the issues that were raised and the solutions people had found. The diversity of interests as well as the essential nature of our trades.
There were three main things that struck me, and that was a sense of belonging that these forums provided, trusting relationships that were built or developing and the engaging nature of person to person contact.
Loneliness, statistically is high, and with this mentioned it is our older people that may be first brought to mind. However, there is a phenomena around loneliness in the workplace. This may equate with the evidence base as being those within the bigger organisations, however there is a real capacity for isolation when working in a smaller enterprise. The self-employed may be simply the “self” with no colleagues, or heading-up a business and not have someone to share the unique experiences of this with another, therefore shouldering all the burdens of the day to day as well as the bigger decisions to be made. So observing what I have, within very different networking forums, this has given a genuine opportunity for acquiring support from others and indeed facilitated it well.
There was a clear message from one of the forums that it was not about rocking up and networking complete, it was about building that trust over time. One could be cynical and say that they were trying to get visitors to sign up for membership, but this was echoed by members in all the groups, that networking and referrals build over time hand-in-hand with trust. This is obviously facilitated by the face to face nature of networking forums, which provides that engagement that only direct contact can provide.
So love it or hate it, networking appeared to be a good thing. I was observing primarily from a Health & Wellbeing aspect, but actually it appeared to be effective from a business perspective too. There was a sense though that this was not achieved without consistency of contact and a genuine driver of supporting others in similar positions locally.
Three key elements were: Engagement Consistency & Trust