My career as a speaker was built during the "Great Recession". Before the crash I was advised that if my desire to be a professional speaker was real, I should change topics, as teaching people how to engage, network, build connections, etc... was "fluffy and nobody would pay" for that topic.
Enter 2008 and 2009. The economy plummeted and people were being laid in near record numbers. Business professionals were scrambling either to find their next job or to show their extra value to their employer to avoid being the next one to be let go.
Those who were finding success attributed their career stability to their networks. All the news outlets were running stories about the power of networking, and the topic was considered anything but "fluffy". While I had not had years of experience as a speaker, my take on how to make, grow, and keep your business relationships touched the problem faced by so many people. Associations who were hungry to provide real value to their members hired me to present and I created win / win relationships with several organizations that have continued to work with me or refer me to this day.
Over the last two years I have again begun to see the eye rolls from meeting planners (and more so from the conference committee members) about the topic of connecting with people. The reality is in our busy and tech crazed business world the need to establish long-term and mutually-beneficial relationships is more important that ever, but in a strong economy people do not see the immediate need to connect.
Yet we live in very uncertain times. While the stock market and job numbers are showing strong gains, there is little trust in what is ahead. The division in our society over the current state of affairs in Washington DC (and the world) leaves our economy vulnerable, and people are talking about when the bottom may again fall out.
If people are worried about the economy, they should be taking steps to recession-proof their careers now. Too many of us (myself included) did not adequately understand what 2008 / 2009 was going to be like and how long it would take us to regain our previous income levels. Conversations these days are often full of questions about what is coming, but I am not seeing many people actively making plans to be ready for the less favorable economic possibilities.
All opportunities come from people and there is nothing better to ensure that you will bounce back in the face of adversity than having established a network of people who will be there to help out in good times and bad. The problem is that our social media crazed world has lead people to think they have more powerful connections than they really do. A like, link, share, or follow means nothing if there is not a real relationship behind it.
Earlier this year I spoke at a conference of successful business leaders who were among the most "self confident" people I have worked with in my career (read that as: nice, successful, and arrogant). While my presentation went fine, a few of them complained to the organizer that my focus on the importance of connecting with people was "old fashioned" and "dated". They voiced their belief that this was not top of the list to take their companies to the next level. My belief is that when you choose people you always find victories, especially over the long run. When I think about the business sector where these CEOs operate, they will be among the hardest hit if their is a correction in the economy. To lessen the importance of the relationship side of growing a business will leave many of them struggling or bankrupt.
Everyone is vulnerable to the possibility of a stall (or fall) in the economy, and business leaders and associations should be exploring what is next. Cultivating a culture of connecting is not only good for today, but will help prepare everyone for any bumps in the road.
Choose people everyday, as there may be a time when you need them to help you. When the economy stalls is not the time to start networking.
4 Tips to Recession Proof Your Career:
1. Do not assume a like, link, share, or follow is equal to a relationship.
2. Start participating in your industry trade association (and other networking groups) now. Do not wait until the economy falters.
3. Find ways to help others. Networking has to be about give and get.
4. Work to position yourself as an expert in your industry.