This is a crucial question that I think any L&D professional should be asking themselves, because networking is a massively important tool in:
Finding work opportunities
Supporting your professional development
Learning from others
Having a trusted circle of fellow professionals who will share what they know with you
However, most importantly we think it should be a source of future work!
The Shock of Realizing You Have No Network
When I think back to my first experience as an independent contractor, stepping out into the big, wide world of L&D for the first time, it probably hadn’t dawned on me just how much I was going to miss what a Big Four consulting firm had given me. I had taken for granted the camaraderie, and the connection. But I soon realized how much I was going to miss the opportunity to bounce ideas off people, to find help and advice and simply to feel that I wasn't completely on my own.
That's the challenge that most independent contractors face and it's not an easy place to be. Finding or building a network is probably the most important thing that any independent L&D consultant can ever do because it's the network that provides the work leads; the support and the opportunities that we all so desperately need.
Getting Started Virtually
So, how would you go about this thing called networking? Of course, there are lots of ready-made networks that we can leverage like LinkedIn for example. You don’t really need to do much to begin to network like this because, of course, there are so many vibrant L&D / HR communities out there that you can tap into, learn from and become better at what you do and there are so many blogs from industry leading think tanks and practitioners you can follow. But that isn’t really building a network, is it?
Personally, I think it's really about doing much more than just joining LinkedIn and following blogs like this. I think it's about building a true network of trusted associates, potential lead generators and people that you actually enjoy hanging out with, albeit virtually.
Making Real Connections
The ability to connect with others, meeting and sharing with other like-minded professionals and attending events has certainly helped shape my development in L&D and is responsible for what I'm doing now. It has introduced me to new ideas and given me confidence to try new things and share my experiences with others. And, most importantly it was how I used to find my work.
What A Network Did For Me
For a number of years, I was part of an ever expanding, ready-made network of alumni from one of the Big Four consulting firms, and this network provided a ready-made source of work leads, trusted colleagues who were prepared to invest time and effort in helping each other, as well as opportunities for social interaction in the virtual world.
Collaborate with Trusted Colleagues to Share Work Opportunities
As individuals we might become aware of work opportunities which we ourselves could not necessarily resource or help with. Maybe we didn’t have the capacity or skills to help, when we knew our client was needing support. In this case, the best practice was to openly share those opportunities to see if any of our colleagues could help. This became really beneficial to us all as a source of chargeable work opportunities for each of us.
Strength in Numbers Appeals to Clients
It was also something that our clients really appreciated because they began to see us as being not just an isolated individual contractor, but somebody who had behind them a broader group of colleagues and associates. Being part of a bigger network quite simply enhanced our clients’ perception of us.
WE are Launching BCR Connect
This previous network I described was predominantly a European based network. But BCR is currently creating something very similar here in the United States. We've developed bcrconnect.net as the virtual site where it all happens. Where L&D professionals can connect with each other, share work opportunities, discuss cutting edge ideas, and where people can turn for help and support with challenges or opportunities that they are presented with.
Check out bcrconnect.net now to see how you can't benefit from being part of an extended L&D network of trusted business professionals. It’s free! It might just be the best thing you do today!