Networking is a powerful way to help you be successful, contribute to your profession, manage your career, and help others. It is important to build a strong network both within your organisation and externally. This article shares the benefits of networking and gives some top tips on how to do it effectively.
What is networking and why invest the time?
In the old days, networking was seen as manipulative – with people being out for what they can get or “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. Some people think it’s fake, they feel too shy, or they can’t see any tangible benefit. However, networking properly (authentically) means both parties gain mutual benefit and support for the greater good of their organisation or profession, as well as helping them personally in an ethically robust way.
Many people assume networking is only about external contacts, but it’s important to network internally too. As well as helping to manage your own career, internal networking can help you to bridge silos and facilitate a broader flow of talent across the organisation.
We are all more likely to purchase products and services that have been recommended to us. For example, I never do any selling because all my clients are recommended to me by word-of-mouth. (Please feel free to recommend me if you know anyone that I might be able to help!). In the same way, employers prefer recommendations when aiming to fill vacancies. Being connected with the right people helps you get noticed and promoted within the organisation.
If you’re networking to increase sales, you may be interested to read the book Recommended by Andy Lopata. Andy has kindly contributed his thoughts to this newsletter; you will find them towards the end.
Networking helps to get an outside perspective that stretches your thinking. Meeting new people gives you the chance to exchange ideas and learn different ways of approaching problems.
Finally, networking also enables you to help other people to be more successful in their role or career by connecting them with others in your network.
Keys to being a successful networker
Here are my top tips:
- Seek to help others before yourself. Ensure you maintain your network when times are good. Continue to be generous – help individuals and connect people. Think about ‘paying it forward’. If/when you need something, you are more likely to get that support back (although it’s not necessarily ‘tit for tat’)
- Always keep your integrity. Don’t feel you need to be an extrovert if you are a natural introvert. Be true to who you are and people will respond better
- Be reliable and dependable. Do what you say you will, and keep your appointments. If you de-prioritise too readily, your network won’t stay in touch. For more on this, take a look at my article about trust
- Be positive. It draws people towards you as they find it much easier to talk to someone who is friendly, open and positive
- Connect people within your network. Consider how individuals in your network could help each other and who you could usefully introduce to each other. Help develop other people by using your network
- Keep in touch. If you’ve recently learnt something useful or interesting, ask yourself who might appreciate that information and send it on to them
3 types of networker
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell defines three types of networking style:
Malcolm Gladwell characterises Connectors as having social networks of over 100 people across an array of social, cultural, professional and economic circles. They have “a truly extraordinary knack [for] making friends and acquaintances. [They] link us up with the world”.
Connectors make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles. Gladwell says they have “a special gift for bringing the world together”.
He attributes the social success of Connectors to the fact that “their ability to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy”.
Mavens are “information specialists”, or “people we rely upon to connect us with new information.” They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others.
Mavens start “word-of-mouth epidemics” due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate. As Gladwell states, “Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know”.
Salespeople are “persuaders”, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them.
Note that ‘selling’ in its traditional sense is not part of networking.
Which type are you? How can you use your strengths to help yourself and others?
Where to network
There are various places where you can expand your network, both offline and online:
- Conferences and events related to your industry or profession. These are particularly useful for meeting people and learning the latest thinking.
- Professional bodies. In order to help develop your profession and raise your profile, it’s wise to join credible local, national and international groups that relate to your profession.
- Social media has exploded over the last few years. LinkedIn is the obvious platform for professionals. It’s not just a job-hunting tool, it’s also a great way to share information and be seen as a maven.
- Web forums where people post questions and others contribute their answers. Participating in these is a great way of being perceived as an expert and getting noticed.
- Your own network. You can set up your own network by researching people who have a similar role or interests. If participants are geographically remote, you can run a virtual network such as a LinkedIn or Facebook group to discuss specific topics. This also applies internally within your organisation.
- Internally. Build your own network through stakeholders, peers, people you meet on training courses, mentoring, sponsors and other influential people.
How to network effectively
- Be focused on who you want to network with. Nobody has much spare time, so use yours wisely and be selective. Take a qualitative rather than a quantitative approach to networking
- Build a diverse network. Don’t just try to clone yourself – aim to meet people with different experiences, styles and perspectives and establish topics of common interest
- For example, my network includes other coaches I respect in order to exchange ideas and keep myself up-to-date and hopefully ahead of the curve with latest thinking. I also network with people with very different experience to me to increase my experience and knowledge.
- Prepare in advance. Think about what you want to gain or learn from the event, and who will be there that you’d like to connect with. Be clear about what you want to achieve and prepare some questions to help the conversation get started (see below for some ideas). Usually, the worst part of networking at events is at the beginning when everyone is standing around drinking coffee and making ‘polite conversation’. By preparing your thoughts you should feel more comfortable at this initial, awkward stage.
- In the moment:
- Act confident and be yourself. Know what you have to offer that makes you interesting and/or helpful to others
- Introduce yourself concisely. Say who you are, what you do, why you are at the event or wanted to meet that person – anything that ‘bridges’ to them
- Ask questions. People like talking about themselves and it’s good to show you’re genuinely interested
- Use their name. This makes people feel you are really listening and they will warm to you more readily
- Remember to smile!
- Take business cards but don’t thrust them at all and sundry. Only exchange cards if you and the other person agree to keep in touch
- Afterwards, send a follow up email as a nice courtesy to say you enjoyed meeting them. Make sure you quickly send anything you promised, including your contact details, and say whether you’d like to meet again
- If somebody helps you by sending information, making a useful introduction or even a connection that lands you a job, always thank them promptly. Don’t wait for them to hear about it from someone else
Useful questions to ask
Ask open questions, not closed questions! Here are a few to start your thought process:
- What do you do? / Where do you work?
- What are you hoping to gain from this meeting?
- What initiatives or projects are you working on?
- What’s a particular challenge you are working on at the moment?
- What are you interested in hearing about at this event?
- What do you think about…? (something topical)
- How can I help you?
Key insights by Andy Lopata
Recommended author, Andy Lopata, has kindly shared his key insights for anyone looking to increase their focus on networking.
1: Be strategic in your approach
Networking is a serious business or career development tool, not simply a ‘soft skill’. Rather than just going to networking events or joining sites because you’ve been invited or they seem like a good idea, spend some time analysing your needs and how networks can help you.
Focus on people rather than events and sites. Formal networking, whether online or face-to-face, merely facilitates the networking process. It is not ‘networking’. True networking is collaboration between people, sharing expertise, experiences, ideas and contacts to enhance each other’s potential.
So, where do you lack the skills or experience to overcome your challenges and who do you know who could help you?
2: Invest in your network
Networking is a two way process and you need to kick it off. In his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about ’emotional bank accounts’. He explains that you can’t simply walk into a bank and ask for money if you haven’t deposited first. Relationships work on the same basis.
That doesn’t mean that you should give on a ‘quid pro quo’ basis. Elizabeth Asquith Bibesco put it perfectly when she said, ‘Blessed is he who gives without remembering and receives without forgetting’.
3: Sell ‘through’ your network, not ‘to’ your network
We don’t like to be sold to, so stop seeing your network as potential clients or employers. Instead, focus on building relationships and trust. Let people want to help you and ensure that they understand the help you are looking for. And don’t be frightened to ask your network for help…..but only when you know that the relationship is strong enough and they would be happy to do so.
I have a simple philosophy. All things being equal, I would prefer it if you referred me five times rather than bought from me once. All things being equal, those referrals are five times more valuable to my business than one sale. And if you trust me enough to refer me five times and understand what I do well enough to refer me five times, where will you go if you need what I offer?
Summary – your call to action?!
I hope these thoughts have inspired you to invest time in building your network. If you’re not sure how to begin, how about starting small by getting in touch with people you have worked with or met before? Then maybe you could expand out to people you have met at college. Finally, you can target yourself to go to some interesting events with an aim of making at least one interesting contact there. Be conscious of the value of networking and add it to your list of priorities; include it on your To Do list!
Please share this article with anyone you know who might find it interesting (think about your network!!!), and let me know if you’d like more information.
There will be no newsletter in August; the September issue looks at social intelligence.