Opening up new doors
The cliché of who, rather than what you know, remains as true today as it was yesterday. For those who want to be in the know, several networking platforms aim to provide the means. Aaron Gray-Block writes.
Networking: to interact or engage in informal communication with
others for mutual assistance or support — dictionary.com
It is not difficult to describe what networking is; the challenge is in doing it successfully. But how do you go about it?
It's a question Hendrik Deckers, who runs a business development company in Mechelen, is ready to answer.
As the Benelux head of online networking platform Ecademy.com, Deckers is an avid public speaker about online business networking.
He says successful networking is a three-step process involving a proactive approach, planning and network expansion.
Initially, you need to proactively build a profile, being fully aware of your strengths and what you can offer. Good communication skills, a business card and the means of contacting people are also necessary.
You then need to plan how to get what you want, such as meeting someone important or obtaining certain information. This involves managing your network and getting to know the networks of other people.
It is at this point, Decker says, that you can start expanding your network by tapping in to it and asking the right questions.
"You need the right attitude, give first and receive second," he says.
Where to network
Described as the "blue chip" business networking company, the US-based LinkedIn.com has more than 2.9 million users. It has more than 870,000 users in Europe, tens of thousands of these in Belgium.
The hugely successful networking platform is referred to as a closed community, because you often need a referral to come into contact with someone else.
It launched a jobs board in March and has a database of more than 4 million jobs. It also offers an international 'a-z listings' of business services.
Chief executive Reid Hoffman says the company will be launching additional premium services to help users become "more effective in their work".
Online networking ... bringing the world closer
Established in November 2003, it now has 1,700 users in Belgium, more then 35 percent of which is non-native, due primarily to the presence of the EU.
It caters to business people and positions itself as a complete business tool. It offers both open and secure contact networking.
The UK-based Ecademy.com has 60,000 members, 700 of which are based in Belgium. It is a business network with a strong social focus.
It is primarily used by entrepreneurs, but middle-management members are also active. The Benelux division has regular offline meetings of about 25 to 30 people.
A fourth alternative is Business Network Int'l (bni.com), which is slightly different because it is a business referral company with exclusive regional chapters.
The social networking group Friendster.com has more than 16 million members. The US-based website can also be used as an employment networking tool.
So which should you use?
The Belgium manager of openBC, John Lindsay, uses three online networking platforms, openBC, Ecademy and LinkedIn because they are complimentary.
Praising Ecademy as a sociable business network, Lindsay — who runs a strategic branding resultancy company — says he uses LinkedIn so that people can find him and to find others; it serves as his "a-z listings".
As an openBC manager, Lindsay uses the website for daily business. More than a telephone book, he says it offers conference calling and event planning.
He criticises LinkedIn for being cumbersome, complaining it takes a long time to get a referral. Because openBC is an open community, it works much quicker.
But Lindsay points out that using all three platforms is what networking is all about — getting the best out of things.
Agreeing to their complimentary nature, Deckers also says LinkedIn does not require much maintenance, while openBC can be time consuming.
Besides their global reach, each platform still has its regional footprint.
Spreading the weight
Despite admitting the need to have online communication, professional networker Charles Ruffolo also warns against relying on online networking too much.
It's all about putting heads together
Ruffolo operates the website Network-club.com — which has members in Belgium, Germany, China, Singapore, South Africa etc — as a means to organise 'in person' events in the Netherlands.
Stressing the basic function of a website is to pass information on, Ruffolo advocates the extraordinary results networking can bring.
"I trademark myself as the networKING. You are a King in your network, she is a Queen in her network, he is a King in his network. If we combine them, we have an empire more powerful than the Roman empire," he said.
Providing business resource reading and weblogs, Ecademy also stages regular offline events. For information about upcoming events in Belgium, click here.
Allowing members to interact in online forums with industry specialists, openBC also provides offline events. Its 'Brussels summer event' on 30 June will focus on 'Art in Business'. Click here for more information.
LinkedIn is purely an online networking resource.
23 June 2005
[Copyright Expatica 2005]
Subject: Dutch news