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You’ve heard the old adage, ‘Your network is your net worth’, but how well do you understand networking?
Most people think that networking is all about trying to be extroverted and putting themselves ‘out there’. Most of us can recall uncomfortable memories of having to endure dreaded networking events. The promise of networking is that after a flurry of handshakes and exchanging of business cards, sometime down the road the perfect job or opportunity will magically appear. Sound familiar?
I have a huge issue with ‘networking events’ because what I described above isn’t real networking in the same way as speed dating isn’t real dating. My most fruitful networking activities have taken place in everyday environments, not in stuffy conference rooms. My best results have come from having a genuine curiosity about a person or company, not from some artificially created urge to mingle with strangers.
To give you an example: I’m a dog person and I always look forward to taking my gorgeous brown Labrador, Poppy, for leisurely strolls every evening in my local park. She adores the crisp grass and natural scents while I get a chance to see familiar faces of fellow parkgoers. Instead of keeping my head down, or scrolling through Facebook on my phone, I make an effort to meet other people. As we cross paths every evening in the park, we may as well get to know each other’s names.
I can’t tell you how many networking opportunities I’ve had as a result of people I’ve met in my local park and other times when I’ve been walking Poppy. Over time, I’ve built up friendships with people walking their dogs, or going jogging, or just enjoying an evening stroll.
So, why does handing over a business card at a meet-and-greet never produce the same results? The answer is that people don’t like ‘being sold to’ and can see it coming a mile off. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that people get turned off when they think someone is trying too hard to network with them. It feels forced and unnatural.
Most people experience an “Aha!” moment when I explain this point to them. It’s as if they’ve been walking wrong their whole lives and I’ve just taught them the proper technique. Suddenly they start to make sense of why dull, tired and contrived networking events have never worked for them. Theyweren’t to blame; it’s just that the whole system isn’t set up to work. Saying “Hi!” to someone you’ve never met out of genuine curiosity is the most powerful way to make a connection and to take the first step on the road to friendship.
So, if you’re looking for the first networking strategy, that’s your first one.
This may be the simplest networking strategy in the book, but think about it: when was the last time you introduced yourself to someone that you didn’t have to? I’m not talking about a new colleague or someone at a meeting or a new client. I’m talking about someone you just happened to cross paths with.
You can meet the most incredible people simply by walking up, sticking your hand out and telling them your name and what you do. By putting your real, genuine self out there and not trying to sell people all the time, you’ll find it much easier to expand your social group and broaden your horizons. To follow this first strategy, try to approach people as if you are going to make friends with them. Show them you care about them, pay them attention and be genuine.
Changing your mindset and learning to approach people as friends instead of business contacts will take time and practice. However, once you are on the right path, meeting new people and making friends just for the sake of it is a waste of time. You need to know your destination to get the most out of your networking.
Begin by writing down your five-year goal. Where would you like to be in five years? Then write down a one year goal; what do you need to do in the next year to make your five-year goal more likely to happen?
By creating a one-year goal, it is simpler to flesh out a 90-day plan. Who do you need to network with over the next three months to help foster your future success? This process will help you identify the types of people you need to bring into your network. Perhaps they include a potential business partner or even new clients. Goal setting will help you maximize your networking time.
The third networking strategy is all about giving.
Approaching people with the thought of what you can get from them will rarely work. However convincing you are, people will see right through you.
Instead, you should always think, “How can I help this person?”
A profound truth in life is that ultimately, the only ‘thing’ you can take with you when you die is everything you’ve given away during your lifetime in terms of advice, guidance and support.
Once you have completed your 90-day networking plan, think about how you can give ten times more than anyone else to the people you want to network with. This is one of the best ways to build trust and develop friendships with people you meet.
For example, say your 5 year plan is to build an eCommerce business that generates an operating profit of $1,000,000 per annum. Your one-year plan might be to build an online store that generates a monthly turnover of $5,000. By extension, your 90-day plan might be to meet a potential business partner. If you approach your networking with the view of finding someone you can take something from, you’ll likely wind up disappointed.
No one wants to be a stepping stone.
Instead, think about what you could offer a potential partner. What could your business plan offer them? How could your connections benefit their career path? What advice could you share?
Remember that the vast majority of people you meet will not be potential candidates for business partners. If you follow the first strategy of approaching everyone as if they were your friend, this strategy is the perfect compliment. You never know how helping someone may benefit you further down the line.
Give, give and give some more … then ask, which leads nicely to my fourth strategy.
It’s no secret that meeting powerful, well-connected people can do wonders for your career. However, people who have built up expansive networks won’t ever share them easily.
Asking someone you know to make an introduction is a strong networking strategy that can produce quick results. The caveat is that relying on goodwill can only ever take you so far.
Think about it – would you put your reputation on the line by recommending someone you thought was just using you?
You must show someone that you have something to share of equal value before you ask them for introductions. People will make introductions for you when they:
Imagine you are eying up your dream position at another company and manage to meet someone who works there.
If you simply exchange a handshake and business cards at a networking event, what are the chances of that person actually being able to help you land your dream job? Slim? Slim to none? The odds are stacked against you.
However, if you can connect with that person on an emotional level, your chances of getting an ‘in’ with your dream company will skyrocket.
This strategy doesn’t mean pretending to make friends in order to climb the corporate ladder. People can usually see right through this type of behavior.
Instead, try to find areas of similar interests and see whether you can develop a genuine friendship. Whether you discover a shared passion for comedy or a love of golf, your job is to find opportunities that allow a friendship to flourish. Friends are more likely to help their friends, so always try to be more to someone than a name on a crumpled business card.
How could something as simple as listening be a networking strategy?
You’d be surprised.
Listening can be extremely difficult for some people, and come naturally for others. However, in this hyper connected smartphone age, listening and paying attention are skills that many people lack.
How many times have you been speaking to someone who was distracted by their phone? Or looking around? Or interrupting you? Not very nice, is it?
By simply maintaining eye contact, listening carefully and asking insightful questions, you can get far more out of your networking endeavors.
The bottom line is, try not to make people feel that you’re just waiting for them to stop talking so that you can say something. People will respect you far more if you show the patience and maturity to listen.
It’s all very well being nice to people and showing them respect but you need to set yourself apart from the crowd and ensure you are memorable.
My final networking strategy is always to have your life story well prepared, just in case.
Think about your life story and how your hopes, dreams and ambitions have culminated in the person you are today. Could you condense this into a 45 second story? This is sometimes referred to as the ‘elevator pitch’; what would you tell someone important if you only had an elevator ride’s worth of time to tell them?
This strategy is all about being prepared. When your moment comes, you’ll be ready.
Consider your life story. Does it;
Show your work ethic and integrity?
Highlight your honesty?
Give someone something meaningful to remember you by?
Write your story down, practice it in front of a mirror. Edit and polish it until it’s incredible.
Then tell your story.
You’ll stand out, I promise you.