For all the importance that we place on the ability to network, rarely are the intricacies of networking discussed outright or taught in colleges or schools. Getting your name into the front of someone’s brain by successful networking is sometimes accomplished by luck, but more often than not, it’s either a conscious or subconscious effort. Let’s face it, you don’t achieve networking success by simply handing out business cards, asking for referrals, or trying to close a deal. Successful networking involves building credible relationships with diverse groups of people over a period of time. There are plenty of books on how to network, to be sure. One really good one is Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. Read it to get some tips on getting close to the people with whom you wish to network.
But, what do you do once you’ve met someone that you think will be a valuable resource to you in the future? Here are 5 keys to your networking success. (Plus a “Bonus” key at the end!)
Networking success will take time. I spend at least a few minutes every day making phone calls, emails, and other communications with people. The key is to plan this time to your fullest advantage. Set aside just 15 minutes per day to touch base with old friends, former co-workers, even distant family members so that you can get your name into their brain.
Don’t be afraid to write a thank you note, or clip a news item or magazine article and send it their way.
When it comes to people you don’t know, getting your name into their brain can be a little more tricky. Read on.
The more visible you are in your community, even an online community, the greater your chances for networking success. Consider joining local associations that facilitate a networking atmosphere such as Rotary, Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, your college alumni program, even specialized associations for areas you may not be apparently pertinent to your field such as homebuilders, engineering, banking, or entrepreneur groups. Read and participate in blogs or websites that fall outside of your niche. More on this later.
Think back to the best networking people you’ve ever known and you’ll remember them as visible members of the community. They were at all the functions, all the training seminars, all the conventions. They showed up at funerals and PTA meetings. They volunteered to coach Little League. They managed to lead the company blood drive and joked about being the official vampire of the office. They were visible, always around. In the online community, they are usually top commenters.
Successful networking involves a lot of work and that work gives you credibility in your community. It isn’t net-eating, net-goofing off, net-talk to the same people every time, or net-sitting around. It’s net-WORKing. It will require some work to establish your credibility and that work takes the form of volunteering to help.
Once you join one of these associations or communities, you’ll have to volunteer to work in order to establish credibility. Without credibility, your networking success is in peril. Non-credible networkers are viewed as “all show and no dough” or as they saw in Texas, “Big hat, no cattle.” It takes time to establish your credibility and you should focus on volunteering to do easily accomplished things for other people when you start your networking career. Translation: don’t bite off more than you can chew. You’ll earn both credibility and respect if you are able to keep your promises.
One way to earn some instant credibility is to offer to introduce your new friend to someone else who needs his or her services, sort of acting as a “go between,” a matchmaker of sorts. This has a very large impact if no help was asked for in the first place.
Successful networking has something in common with investing in that, you should diversify your networks just like you diversify your investments. The more connections you have to different and varied groups of people, the more well rounded your personal network and the more contacts you have. With more contacts comes greater exposure. With greater exposure comes more opportunities to help others and to receive help from them.
You have to be available and accessible. People who don’t return email or screen every phone call are generally not successful at networking. Many opportunities are time sensitive and for those who remain inaccessible, those opportunities pass them by. Make sure you can be reached by those you intend to have in your network.
BONUS KEY: Sincerity
Networking is a giver’s game. It’s about reciprocity, “We will all be better in the long run if we help each other.” But remember, YOU will have to make the first move! Successful networking is about helping people, about “paying it forward,” and about looking for ways to connect with people. Offer up ideas, information, or even contacts for them. Operating from a sincerely helpful stance will help insure your networking success
If you’re networking to get referrals for your product or service, you must first take the time to establish your willingness to help. Without that, you have no credibility and no one will willingly give you referrals … except to get you off their back. Remember that any time someone gives you a referral, they risk their own reputation. If you do a poor job, then their reputation is diminished and your credibility is severely damaged.
Remember that networking success almost always requires payment up front and in full. If you’re aren’t willing to pay the price up front, you might not achieve the networking success you envisioned and you’ll be seen and later portrayed as a selfish hack who is just trying to score a few deals. No one wants to network with that type of person. Would you?