Closed and open networks in the 21st Century

Under orders

Do you like being told what to do? As a small business owner, I don’t, and I don’t suppose you do either.

To be honest, I never really have liked being told what to do. When I was an employee I had to be at the start, but as I became more experienced and senior, generally most of my bosses allowed me to get on with it. A hands-off approach to management is usually the right way to go, and as I had been treated, so I treated others. I always thought that the best way to get employees to do their best for you was to be nice to them so that they liked you and didn’t want to let you down. Actually I am not sure that was mostly a conscious process; after all if you treat people well they should like you and aim to please.

Out of jail

So, when I gained my freedom, one advantage of having my own business was that no one told me what to do. Of course I have always sought advice. I would be stupid not to, but I have never been under an obligation to anyone other than my clients, for whom I do my best.

In order to gain more business, or indeed to get any at the start I joined several networks. One was a well known breakfast networking organization, but I also joined two business groups. Both operated on the principle that accredited members won work and that which they couldn’t or were not directly qualified to do themselves, they farmed out to other better qualified members, taking a commission for the work won. It was not the done thing to sub-contract to non-members.

The Dark Ages

I suppose that was OK in back in the mists of time a decade ago and when the internet was still a clumsy child and not the sophisticated fast-growing brash youngster it now is. It was OK when my business was also a child and the networks and I were products of a pre-internet age.

These days I want to work with the best people I can when I am managing a project. I have gathered a large network and would want to bring in whomever I wish who is most suited. I don’t expect a commission for subcontracting. Either I would hope for reciprocal referrals or I can sell on the sub-contracted work at a profit. I am not demanding that people give up to me some of what they consider their due reward.

Freedom

I know many more people than I did. I have met them through Ecademy, LinkedIn , Twitter and other on-line networks. I have met them off-line face to face so that I know that I like them. People move on from other networks, but they don’t necessarily move on from mine, unless I decide I couldn’t work with them. My network is in my head even if their contact details are not. I work with whom I like.

The trouble is the old closed networks still like control of their members. They like to tell them what to do. They like to tell them with whom they can work and with whom they can’t. Incredible isn’t it?

The Real World

I value my old networks very much, by which I mean the members with whom I have worked. The networks are the people in them, not the founders or owners. The founders are facilitators now, not controllers. If they don’t let their networks grow up and their members work as they wish the networks will not survive in formal form. Of course any network must have acceptable ethics, but not restrictive rules which might even constitute a restraint of trade.

Freedom and flexibility are what all businesses need now, not just small ones. As long as we are ethical in our approach and stick to what we are good at, please don’t tell us what to do, or with whom we are allowed to work. That is so Last Century, isn’t it?.

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