The first week of every month is my networking week. I have the Ballarat Business Woman board meeting Tuesday, the Design Business Council breakfast in Melbourne on Wednesday and (sometimes) I make it to the Ballarat Commerce BizNet breakfast. This week I also had my weekly online catchup with the fabulous Steph Clarke, coffee with a friend while I was in Melbourne, a dinner out with the Ballarat Business Woman board, a 7 person meeting at the Ballarat Council for HUCX and finally we had 3 separate groups visit the factory. All in all, this week I think I’ve engaged with about 40 different people and if you include my birthday party in the weekend, I can double that.

Isn’t that extraordinary? I’ve connected with 80 people in the last 7 days! I realise that there will be many of you out there who regularly interact with vastly more people than that but for someone who has spent the last 8 years sharing an office with her husband - this is pretty spectacular! 

Starting each month a week of networking fills my cup right up. I never considered the importance of networking when I was younger. God knows why because it feels like a vital part of both my design and prefab businesses now. There are so many leaps and bounds that we’ve made that never would’ve happened if I hadn’t been brave enough to introduce myself to a group of strangers. 

I’ve been asked to be a guest speaker at an online summit for Queenland Tafe about design and life which has got me thinking… 1. How exciting that this opportunity has arisen (from a connection made at a networking breakfast) and 2. What advice could I offer graduating design students that would actually be of some use. After the week I’ve just had I’m starting to think that encouraging students to join local networking groups is a really great piece of advice that I wish I had known about earlier on in my career.

There is a misconception that networking groups are lame, especially if you're a young person. I certainly felt that way when I was working in publishing in my early 20’s. There are so many movies (favourite being Cedar Rapids) about how boring and tedious industry events can be but in my experience, they can be a rich resource of professional connections and in lots of cases, a great place to make friends. 

I’m lucky that I’ve struck gold on a couple of the groups I’m involved with. Not only have working relationships evolved but it feels like I’ve joined teams where everyone is rooting for everyone else. The examples of casual mentoring and people going out of their way to help others is extraordinary. And it happens so organically. 

If I was a graduating student today I would get involved in some local networking groups. The key is to go into it without expectations. You’re not going to get a job or pick up a client (yet). I’ve seen people who treat it as a means to an end and they never stick around for very long. But if you go in ‘curious’, it’s a fabulous way to learn more about the businesses in your community and meet different people who are outside of your family and friend group. 

Shamefully there was a large part of my 20’s and 30’s when I only hung out with people who were within 5 years of my own age. Now I can very proudly say that I have friends and professional contacts that span a good 20 years each way. 

Finally, the most exciting thing that happens in a networking group is you don’t know who you’re going to meet. I know that sounds obvious but I’ve met some of the most interesting people in these groups; our paths would never cross in the outside world but with us both being present and open to meeting someone new, the universe has brought us together. 

If we do the same thing everyday then life gets very repetitive and very predictable, very quickly. Networking groups are a great way to throw a new idea, direction or person in the mix. For a freshly graduated design student it would expose them to a great cross section of their community and hopefully they could make use of some of the generous casual mentoring that's on offer.

For pecuniary interests sake I’m in fact an active and enthusiastic board member of Ballarat Business Women and while this blog is about the benefits of joining networking groups, you don’t have to join mine - although if you're a woman living in Ballarat you probably should. 

Video of the week
Sanjeev Bhaskar reads Robert Burns' letter of apology after drunkenly disgracing himself
Podcast of the week
Bang on: Beyonce’s Renaissance film, U2’s Sphere, Stevie Nicks Barbie
Font of the week
Leentank: Font of the week by Julpik

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