BEST PRACTICE: Networking for results

First let's clear away some confusion. Networking is not a group of people from disparate industries meeting for the sole purpose of generating business leads for each other. Neither is it a club for the like-minded to meet socially. It is often a practical self-help group but is definitely not a sales opportunity. The term 'networking' is sometimes used to describe all of these things, but it is actually much more - and much more difficult to define.

A network is like a reference library made of people. We may not know all the individuals, but we have enough contacts within the framework to be referred to the right person to meet our needs - and, incidentally, to have people referred to us. We 'network' when we make friends or turn up at the office. We're even born into a network of relations (not that it's always an advantage!). It's only fairly recently that people have become conscious of the importance of networking and formalised it as a valuable business asset.

No networking is a waste of time, but concentrating on making contacts with colleagues within your industry and profession is most helpful. Richard Gibson, commercial director of RSA Direct, says: "Marketers should network at trade shows, seminars, conferences and through trade bodies such as the DMA." Who are the right people to have in your network changes over time depending on where you are in your career.