The value of networks

“You know everyone!” my two children often say after I’ve been to an event, which of course isn’t true. Over the years, however, I’ve been fortunate to build a pool of people from various sectors and backgrounds. As one of the directors of Creative Black Country, part of my role is to grow and maintain networks to build meaningful relationships. I have been reflecting on how I do this, and why I stay connected.

Volunteering – whilst there was no logic in choosing a couple of roles back in my early twenties – volunteering at a local summer scheme for young people and being part of a Junior Chamber of Commerce to run a public speaking competition for school children – it increased my understanding of the youth sector and led to good connections.

Digital Platforms – LinkedIn and Twitter enable access to a global network of people and organisations, helpful in reaching folks to help spread the word about what we do. They also enable you to follow peers from whom we can learn.

Attending events and saying hello – This took some courage in the early days and needed more effort. Over time, I have picked up a few tips: get to the venue early so you do not walk in a room full of people; ask for a delegates list so that you can find out in advance who you want to connect with; ask the host for an introduction if you’re a bit shy; if someone give you a business card, scribble on the back a quick note of what you talked about/where you met, so you remember later.

The bigger part of this is why networks are important.

  • Meeting and growing a network of people can really help expand your world view and help to bring innovation into your own field of work.
  • It is much easier to ‘phone a friend’ and ask someone for a second opinion if you’re struggling or need that bit of encouragement.
  • Having built and supported your networks, you will be in a stronger position to apply for funding as a group of organisations.
  • They are your cheerleaders – the best compliment for you, or your organisation, comes from others, so having your advocates will build mutually beneficial connections.

Networks are not built overnight. It takes time to build the trust needed to establish strong relationships, so keep going. Eventually people around you and your network will trust you and be more open to help you reach your goal. Well done if you pull on those contact strings, do always thank them. Contacts are precious and should be treated with respect! And if there isn’t a network around you, start one up about something that you have interest in.

Finally, the most important value amongst everything that we do is building trust, the foundation of any network and relationship.

Sajida Carr, AIM Trustee and Director of Operations and Development, Creative Black Country