Poet John Donne’s observation that “no man is an island” sums up why networking can be useful to advisers in businesses that work in isolation.
The prospect of connecting with other advisers, sharing ideas and experiences – perhaps leading to a different perspective on a difficult situation, new clients or even a new job – sounds great. But do advisers find networking worthwhile in practice? And how effective is it to do so online?
Got to be there…
Most in the industry feel attending networking events and groups provide the most value, even though it may mean taking time out of the office. But how can advisers ensure they will not be wasting valuable time?
Financial services recruitment firm Global Accounting Network founding director Adrian O’Connor says: “Only attend events that will add something to your professional development and your network.”
Many advisers have found networking particularly useful when starting a business, either to find new clients or to gain insight into running a firm. But if there is nothing in your local area, setting up your own network group is an option.
For example, over the last year, a group for financial planners under 35 has been set up in the Hampshire and Dorset area to help young advisers learn things that can only be picked up through experience. One member says that, because a lot of young advisers in the area are employed by smaller firms, it cannot be assumed they have huge numbers of people in their office to provide support.
Serenity Financial Planning head of life planning Jeremy Squibb has founded an early-morning networking group and sees the practice as a key part of business development. He says: “Based on the principal of developing relationships and sharing insight, it has been invaluable to my business.”
However, networking events tend to be regional and, New Model Business Academy managing director Tom Hegarty points out there may be some differences in business practices between places. To understand best practice across the UK, he believes the most suitable method is online networking
He says: “Most online networking is provided through the trade press, where advisers can express their opinions through comments on articles. The downside is that regular users of this function can often be quite negative and have specific issues, for example, with the FCA. Comments can be quite strong and confrontational, which may deter other users from expressing their views.”
Alive and kicking
Social networks created specifically for advisers to provide help and support to each other can deliver a more positive experience. Lifetalk founder Phil Calvert says: “The degree to which advisers are willing to go out of their way to help one of their peers still amazes me. Our forums see a great deal of sharing and answering of each other’s questions, so networking online is very much alive and kicking.
“That said, many advisers still hold back from taking part in our forums despite the fact the tone is overwhelmingly friendly and professional. We know this because the number of people who log into the forums is still high but only about 20 per cent contribute regularly. “
Neil Moles, managing director, Progeny Group
As an industry we’re really bad at communicating, so it would be amazing if we could share our best ideas. But we are an industry full of small owner-managed businesses and it’s difficult for us to come together – time is precious.
At industry events people just want to sell things to you. There isn’t anyone who genuinely wants to drive things forward – the CII, for example, is more preoccupied with its work on examinations. I’d like online networking to work but you only have to look at the comments advisers post at the end of articles to see why it doesn’t work. We have to be professional and appreciate that others have different ways of doing things.