I have come to realise that one of the most valuable assets a professional can possess is the ability to network. My networking journey started as a 10 year old when I wrote to my boyhood team, Liverpool Football Club, asking for a trial. They sent a nice response saying their academy positions were full at that moment in time. Throughout my teens I continued with this forward approach by sending many emails and letters without receiving much in response. This didn’t dishearten me as to this day I still spend a lot of time forming networks with other professionals, which has been of massive benefit to my career. I’ve also been surrounded by networkers. One of my close friends went to another part of China on holiday and ended up getting a full-time academy position there with a professional club, another went to Africa on holiday and ended up becoming a topflight manager there, and recently I managed to get a football friend, who is travelling through Asia, the opportunity to present his methods to an Asian football association.
In the professional game, the power of meeting and building relationships with people cannot be underestimated. Ian Cathro, the current Hearts head coach, managed to impress a Portuguese coach (Nuno Espiritio) on a coaching course in Scotland. As soon as Nuno was appointed head coach of Rio Ave in Portugal he immediately hired Cathro to be his assistant and off the back of that success the duo moved to Valencia together. Michael Beale, the former Liverpool u23s manager, is another example after recently being appointed assistant coach of Sau Paulo in Brazil, after impressing a Brazilian coach (Rogerio Ceni) on a coaching course in England. I’m sure we can all recall many other stories of people getting high level football jobs through being friendly with, or being a friend of a friend, with someone in power. Seeing favouritism happen may cause frustration for many but instead of wasting time angsting about it get involved in the networking game to see where it can take you!
In terms of my journey, I’ve got all of my jobs and opportunities through social media and meeting people on coaching courses. I’ve recently been approached about jobs, without applying, and have been told by three bosses that they will always have a job for me. One of the bosses has never even seen me coach but was impressed by how I had helped him previously and how I come across on social media. Degrees and coaching licences are great but without networking we are limiting the value of our knowledge and experiences.
There may be many negatives to modern day technology, especially in the development of players, but for coaches it gives us the capability to contact with virtually anyone in the world. Yes, not everyone will respond, but don’t be disheartened as all it takes is one person in the know to unlock the door to your dream job or opportunity. Networking can also be a great learning tool but it’s not something I’ve heard discussed enough in the development of coaches, and have never come across tips on how I can maximise my network. With this is mind I have developed a list of ideas to maximise your networking potential, many of which involve the ultimate networking tool, social media.
-Grow your following on social media networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn. It’s best to only follow coaches as it’s more beneficial having 200 coaches in your network than 5000 supplement salesmen. To begin, go to the followers list of a coach with a large network and start following the coaches on their list. Another useful way is going to a post with lots of interaction and following those who retweeted, liked and commented as people who interact can be beneficial.
An effective way of growing your network is using a follow for a follow strategy, only following people who have been active within the past day, and looking at their following to followers ratio. If someone follows 125 people and they have 2,000 followers, it’s rare they will follow you back. This can be time consuming but there are some useful apps which show your figures and can help you maximise your following to followers ratio, saving you time in the process.
-Engage with social media. Join coaching groups on Facebook and join in with discussions on Twitter and LinkedIn. Many people are peepers/silent observers on social media and don’t interact. Silent observers can still learn (& self-reflect) with what’s being said but put your opinions out there which may win you fans and grow your network amongst the group.
-Tweet updates about your career progressions, whether that’s new qualifications, a new job or something innovative you’re doing in your current job. It can be beneficial taking videos and pictures of your work as evidence of practice as long as you’re doing it in line with child protection protocols. It’s also beneficial tweeting your ideas regularly to give others an insight into your philosophy. The more others can relate to what you’re saying, the more interaction, likes and views it will get! Picking the right time of day is also vital to get your post seen by as many people as possible. For example, if you post at midnight, not many people will see it. Sunday is generally the best day to post but experiment with different days and times to see which gets the most interaction.
-Reach out to people by sending meaningful emails and messages on social media. Make sure to use people’s names and make the message personal so the recipient doesn’t feel you have copied and pasted it to 50 other people. If you need to send one email to a large network of people use BCC as if they see other email addresses it will feel less personal and you’ll be less likely to get a response.
-All of the above will help you to grow your network and your career potential but PROCEED WITH CAUTION. Social media can be a dangerous tool as all it takes is one statement for you to lose your credibility or your job. A friend of mine almost lost his job in America as his host family had seen a negative comment on Facebook.
-Choose holiday destinations that will allow you to relax & explore but ones which may provide potential career opportunities. If you fancy working abroad, do your research beforehand, emailing clubs and sending messages on LinkedIn to see if you can meet a highly renowned coach, observe a session or even take one yourself! It may be a voluntary stop off initially but it could lead to something permanent down the line. If you’re looking to get into a certain line of work at home, get yourself known by the organisation, and do the small jobs before building your way up.
Real world networking
-Attend networking events, courses, and conferences to get your face known. Interact during discussions and chat to other attendees to exchange background stories and ideas. Make sure to get their contact details whether that be their email or a social media account. During a course, it can be beneficial to send around a notepad, asking everyone to put their name and email down which can then be sent to everyone via email, enabling everyone to stay connected.
-Arrange to meet people and observe sessions. You often find that meeting people face to face and explaining your story can lead to opportunities or connections with other people. Especially when you’re new in town and outline your previous experience. Building your reputation in an area and giving taster sessions showcasing your talents can lead to employment.
-Find your unique selling point that differentiates you from other people and lead with that when asking for opportunities or exchanging ideas. Work under a mentor who you can strive to impress and in return you can then benefit from their experience and connections in the industry.
-Take time to help those who reach out to you as you never know when they may be able to return the favour. This is not always easy when you have a large network as some days you’re very busy and 10 messages can stream in but when you find the time, try to respond to as many as you can.
If you want to discuss any of my points or feel I have missed something, give me a shout!
Thanks for reading.
Originally posted: 1st May 2017