LET'S TALK ABOUT...

Building an effective network with Oli Barrett

#btconversations #developingacareer #launchingabusiness

‘Let’s Talk About’ is our series  of videos offering practical digital skills advice to help you grow.

Oli Barrett, described by Wired magazine as "the most connected man in Britain", shares his advice on how you can grow your career and business by building a strong and effective network.

Intro

Ask people what keeps them busy

Introduce yourself with multiple hooks

Talk about the future

Show enthusiasm

Make it personal

Create trust with common references

Build credibility with your own story

Keep it snappy

Don’t give up

Keep in touch with people

Oli Barrett:

I'm Oli Barrett, and I believe that one of the secrets to building great business success stories is effective networks. Let's talk about how.

Oli Barrett:

I think of myself as a serial co-founder. My honest confession is on my own I'm effectively useless. So my job is, find brilliant people, team up with them, help them get what they need to start things. I think many people hate the word "networking" because it conjures up this idea of a hot, stuffy room, a glass of warm Chardonnay, a fist full of business cards, not quite sure why you're there, slightly wishing you weren't, and it sort of makes the heart sink. So, I don't think of it like that at all. Let's forget that word "networking" and let's think about the concept of having an effective network, and what I mean by that is an amazing group of people around you, that can support you, that you can support, and that you can have really uplifting interactions with, throughout whatever job you're doing today, tomorrow, and for the next however many years. That's what effective networks are really all about.

Oli Barrett:

When you're running a business, you're quite rightly thinking about where the next opportunity is going to come from, and here's the secret, it will almost certainly come from another person, and that person will almost certainly be within your existing network.

Oli Barrett:

Ninety-nine percent of networking is about people we already know. That's why it's called a network, and then of course from time to time, you'll be meeting new people. So, meeting someone for the first time is quite an exciting connection in terms of its potential.

Oli Barrett:

I think the one thing I'd encourage people to get away from is using the question "what do you do?" First of all, immediately you're encouraging someone to talk about their job, which in many cases, people don't necessarily enjoy. Secondly, it sometimes gives the impression that you really only care about them depending on what they do. So, it can seem to be a bit judgmental.

Oli Barrett:

Instead, I'd use a practical tip like this, ask them, what's keeping them busy at the moment, and all of a sudden you'll find them giving you answers, like where they're planning on going on holiday, or a passion project, or a side hustle that they're working on. It starts to open up new doorways, and so if you're in the business world and you meet someone for the first time, forget their business card. Take an interest in them as a person and in due course you can find out what they do, of course you can, but don't start with that.

Oli Barrett:

The idea that you go into a room full of people you don't know, with a spring in your step, just doesn't make sense to the vast majority of people. I confess half the time I go out to an event and I don't even want to be there, and half the time I'm hosting it. So, here's my tip about getting around that. Next time you go to an event, when you say a little something about yourself, tell the person you're speaking to a number of different things about yourself. So I might say, "Hi. I'm Oli. I'm here tonight because I know Carol. I've known her for quite a few years, but actually I play the piano, so I'm interested in the relationship between music and business, and I've just moved to London as well. So, I'm really keen to meet new people." What you've done there is offer the person that you're meeting four or five different hooks, and the conversation can then go in lots of different ways, and notice that none of those hooks was what I do for my day job. So, start offering those hooks and people start to show you different sides of themselves and conversations go much more interesting ways.

Oli Barrett:

If we base our conversations with someone on today, we've basically missed the boat. We've missed the opportunity to collaborate. The way we forge new relationships and new collaborations are by talking about the future. Asking where someone is going, asking them where they want to go. All of that reveals the secrets about how to work with somebody. Great conversations tell you about someone's tomorrow, and that is the most interesting piece of any business conversation.

Oli Barrett:

I think there's a school of thought that says, you must only meet people through a trusted introduction. You should never cold email, you should never cold call, and I just don't agree with that. Almost every venture that I've helped start has started with one of those long shots. People will ignore you. People will sometimes say no. Sometimes they say yes.

Oli Barrett:

When you're sending an email to someone, one of the key ingredients for me is enthusiasm. Showing a real, genuine interest in what somebody is doing and not just, "hey, I think you're brilliant", but draw attention to a specific thing that somebody has been working on. Because secretly what someone's doing when they receive an email is they're thinking, "Is this really for me or is this the sort of email that's been sent to many, many people?" Find out much more about them, something recent. You can use Google to search and update for the last week, or the last day, or the last month, and that really makes it so clear to the person receiving your note that this email has only been sent to them, not to a hundred other people in the same position. You've got to establish trust very quickly when you write to someone. So use a name, a phrase, an organization, title that they recognize. So you go from being someone they've never heard of to using language they recognize.

Oli Barrett:

Quickly within that first email, credibility. What can you say about your own journey so far that shows that you're not mucking around, you're not wasting their time, and then cut to the chase. What's this email about? Too many emails are simply too long. So, keep it snappy. The way to make a long email look like a short email is put some more information under the signature, and keep the top of the email nice and pithy, nice and short.

Oli Barrett:

Nine times out of ten, certainly when I'm starting something, the answer I get is nothing. I get completely ignored. It's tumbleweed. New beginnings for ventures have always come from writing more than once. Then I think if you keep it polite, brief, you give them a sign that you're serious. So when you send those long shots, don't be afraid. Have a quiet confidence that people know how to say no, and that sometimes they say yes.

Oli Barrett:

The thing to remember about how opportunities connect with people is that it's often not through the people we would most expect. Our best friends, our family members, our housemates. In reality, it tends to be through people we don't know quite as well. That person we haven't seen for a few months, maybe slightly lost touch with, and I guess the lesson is it pays to keep in touch with people.

Oli Barrett:

Think about ten people that you've slightly lost touch with and reconnect with them. Don't be afraid to say, "Hey, I'm sorry, it's been so long. I'd love to know your latest news." Find out what someone's been up to and drop them a note. I try to call people on their birthday. I make it just a really short call if I can, and it's actually wonderful how surprised they are to hear from you sometimes.

Oli Barrett:

It doesn't always need to lead to wonderful new ventures. It's just that simple process of checking in with someone, checking they're all right, and maybe finding out what they're up to.

Oli Barrett:

If you've ever been struggling, as I have most weeks with actually making something happen. If you're wondering why you're not attracting as many new opportunities, nine times out of ten, it will be back to having a more effective network. So I think it’s hugely worth doubling down on thinking "What does that look like for me?" It isn't about becoming someone that you don't want to be or being anyone other than you are, but it is about thinking, "Who do I want to know? Who do I already know? How can I help them?” And sometimes, “how can they help me?"

Oli Barrett:

So let's think a bit about how to be more helpful, but also to share enough about ourselves and our journey that other people know how to help us, and want to help us. That's really at the core of building an effective network.

‘Let’s Talk About’ is our series  of videos offering practical digital skills advice to help you grow.

Oli Barrett, described by Wired magazine as "the most connected man in Britain", shares his advice on how you can grow your career and business by building a strong and effective network.

Oli Barrett is a serial founder who enjoys making useful connections between people and ideas. He created numerous ventures such as Tenner, the UK’s largest schools enterprise challenge, TOTS (Turn on the Subtitles), he co-founded Volunteer It Yourself, StartUp Britain, The Rainmakers, and many more. 

Intro

Ask people what keeps them busy

Introduce yourself with multiple hooks

Talk about the future

Show enthusiasm

Make it personal

Create trust with common references

Build credibility with your own story

Keep it snappy

Don’t give up

Keep in touch with people

Oli Barrett:

I'm Oli Barrett, and I believe that one of the secrets to building great business success stories is effective networks. Let's talk about how.

Oli Barrett:

I think of myself as a serial co-founder. My honest confession is on my own I'm effectively useless. So my job is, find brilliant people, team up with them, help them get what they need to start things. I think many people hate the word "networking" because it conjures up this idea of a hot, stuffy room, a glass of warm Chardonnay, a fist full of business cards, not quite sure why you're there, slightly wishing you weren't, and it sort of makes the heart sink. So, I don't think of it like that at all. Let's forget that word "networking" and let's think about the concept of having an effective network, and what I mean by that is an amazing group of people around you, that can support you, that you can support, and that you can have really uplifting interactions with, throughout whatever job you're doing today, tomorrow, and for the next however many years. That's what effective networks are really all about.

Oli Barrett:

When you're running a business, you're quite rightly thinking about where the next opportunity is going to come from, and here's the secret, it will almost certainly come from another person, and that person will almost certainly be within your existing network.

Oli Barrett:

Ninety-nine percent of networking is about people we already know. That's why it's called a network, and then of course from time to time, you'll be meeting new people. So, meeting someone for the first time is quite an exciting connection in terms of its potential.

Oli Barrett:

I think the one thing I'd encourage people to get away from is using the question "what do you do?" First of all, immediately you're encouraging someone to talk about their job, which in many cases, people don't necessarily enjoy. Secondly, it sometimes gives the impression that you really only care about them depending on what they do. So, it can seem to be a bit judgmental.

Oli Barrett:

Instead, I'd use a practical tip like this, ask them, what's keeping them busy at the moment, and all of a sudden you'll find them giving you answers, like where they're planning on going on holiday, or a passion project, or a side hustle that they're working on. It starts to open up new doorways, and so if you're in the business world and you meet someone for the first time, forget their business card. Take an interest in them as a person and in due course you can find out what they do, of course you can, but don't start with that.

Oli Barrett:

The idea that you go into a room full of people you don't know, with a spring in your step, just doesn't make sense to the vast majority of people. I confess half the time I go out to an event and I don't even want to be there, and half the time I'm hosting it. So, here's my tip about getting around that. Next time you go to an event, when you say a little something about yourself, tell the person you're speaking to a number of different things about yourself. So I might say, "Hi. I'm Oli. I'm here tonight because I know Carol. I've known her for quite a few years, but actually I play the piano, so I'm interested in the relationship between music and business, and I've just moved to London as well. So, I'm really keen to meet new people." What you've done there is offer the person that you're meeting four or five different hooks, and the conversation can then go in lots of different ways, and notice that none of those hooks was what I do for my day job. So, start offering those hooks and people start to show you different sides of themselves and conversations go much more interesting ways.

Oli Barrett:

If we base our conversations with someone on today, we've basically missed the boat. We've missed the opportunity to collaborate. The way we forge new relationships and new collaborations are by talking about the future. Asking where someone is going, asking them where they want to go. All of that reveals the secrets about how to work with somebody. Great conversations tell you about someone's tomorrow, and that is the most interesting piece of any business conversation.

Oli Barrett:

I think there's a school of thought that says, you must only meet people through a trusted introduction. You should never cold email, you should never cold call, and I just don't agree with that. Almost every venture that I've helped start has started with one of those long shots. People will ignore you. People will sometimes say no. Sometimes they say yes.

Oli Barrett:

When you're sending an email to someone, one of the key ingredients for me is enthusiasm. Showing a real, genuine interest in what somebody is doing and not just, "hey, I think you're brilliant", but draw attention to a specific thing that somebody has been working on. Because secretly what someone's doing when they receive an email is they're thinking, "Is this really for me or is this the sort of email that's been sent to many, many people?" Find out much more about them, something recent. You can use Google to search and update for the last week, or the last day, or the last month, and that really makes it so clear to the person receiving your note that this email has only been sent to them, not to a hundred other people in the same position. You've got to establish trust very quickly when you write to someone. So use a name, a phrase, an organization, title that they recognize. So you go from being someone they've never heard of to using language they recognize.

Oli Barrett:

Quickly within that first email, credibility. What can you say about your own journey so far that shows that you're not mucking around, you're not wasting their time, and then cut to the chase. What's this email about? Too many emails are simply too long. So, keep it snappy. The way to make a long email look like a short email is put some more information under the signature, and keep the top of the email nice and pithy, nice and short.

Oli Barrett:

Nine times out of ten, certainly when I'm starting something, the answer I get is nothing. I get completely ignored. It's tumbleweed. New beginnings for ventures have always come from writing more than once. Then I think if you keep it polite, brief, you give them a sign that you're serious. So when you send those long shots, don't be afraid. Have a quiet confidence that people know how to say no, and that sometimes they say yes.

Oli Barrett:

The thing to remember about how opportunities connect with people is that it's often not through the people we would most expect. Our best friends, our family members, our housemates. In reality, it tends to be through people we don't know quite as well. That person we haven't seen for a few months, maybe slightly lost touch with, and I guess the lesson is it pays to keep in touch with people.

Oli Barrett:

Think about ten people that you've slightly lost touch with and reconnect with them. Don't be afraid to say, "Hey, I'm sorry, it's been so long. I'd love to know your latest news." Find out what someone's been up to and drop them a note. I try to call people on their birthday. I make it just a really short call if I can, and it's actually wonderful how surprised they are to hear from you sometimes.

Oli Barrett:

It doesn't always need to lead to wonderful new ventures. It's just that simple process of checking in with someone, checking they're all right, and maybe finding out what they're up to.

Oli Barrett:

If you've ever been struggling, as I have most weeks with actually making something happen. If you're wondering why you're not attracting as many new opportunities, nine times out of ten, it will be back to having a more effective network. So I think it’s hugely worth doubling down on thinking "What does that look like for me?" It isn't about becoming someone that you don't want to be or being anyone other than you are, but it is about thinking, "Who do I want to know? Who do I already know? How can I help them?” And sometimes, “how can they help me?"

Oli Barrett:

So let's think a bit about how to be more helpful, but also to share enough about ourselves and our journey that other people know how to help us, and want to help us. That's really at the core of building an effective network.