Networking Your Way To Success
You have definite goals and objectives. You’re probably working really hard to achieve them. What if you found out you might not have to work quite so hard? You know the old saying, many hands make light work, well that’s what networking is all about. By creating associations with people both inside out outside of your field you can create shortcuts to your destination.
The people in your network can help you, they can teach you, they can take you along paths you may not have considered before, introduce you to more people who can help you.
But why, you may ask, would all these people be so willing to help me? Because you’re doing the same for them. That’s the beauty of a network, everyone associated with it benefits.
A network is more about what you can give than what you want to take
People who don’t have strong networks enter into every conversation looking out for what the connection can do for them. Successful networkers focus first not on what they want from others but on what they can do for them. People are motivated to help others who have helped them. Life is after all, a reciprocal relationship. Look no further than the nearest tree, the oxygen from which you’re breathing in while it absorbs the carbon dioxide you’re breathing out.
Where to network?
Where to start? Sometimes it seems like such a small world. You’re out in the middle of someplace you’ve never heard of and you run into someone who went to school with your sister. And sometimes out there is so big you can barely fathom it. That’s because the world is both immense and intimate, especially now in this age of complete connectivity. That’s why people need to build their connections both online and off.
Social media has become our most direct, immediate source of communication. Oftentimes the first inkling we get about the latest news comes via Facebook or Twitter. Everyone’s touched by the invisible tendrils of the worldwide web, by which we’re all connected. So much so, that if you don’t have an online presence people wonder why. Even if your online presence is limited to a LinkedIn account and comments on other people’s contributions it’s important to have one.
Networking online is about joining relevant groups, participating in forums, interacting with bloggers (or writing your own blog). Google is everyone’s new best friend. Use it to research people or the sorts of people you’d like to network with then use it to get yourself where they are (virtually).
The beauty of your online presence is you get to present yourself exactly how you’d like to be perceived. No stuttering or awkward silences as may come up during in-person interactions. You have time to craft your words and your message and the great thing is, while you’re putting all that work into your online presence you’re doing your homework for when you do get to present yourself in person.
In person networking
You will attend seminars, join associations, go to conventions, trade shows, meet with people others have recommended as part of your networking initiatives, but you may also meet someone you’d like to add to your network while you’re doing something completely unrelated. That’s why it’s important to always look presentable. There’s nothing worse than meeting someone you’d like to add to your network and looking like the last person they want to meet.
The first rule of in-person networking is confidence. Even if you’re not feeling it, project confidence. A firm handshake, strong eye contact, a smile are a good start.
Small talk your way to big results
A little banter can go a long way to opening up a conversation with someone you want to get to know. Jumping right in and asking someone for his or her help is a shortcut to getting immediately dismissed or forgotten. Questions are a great way to get things started. Share something about yourself, find some common ground. At the same time don’t get so intimidated that you start to babble. Think before you speak.
Even if you’re an introvert, with practice and preparation networking can become second nature. Plus, if you’re talking about something you’re passionate about shyness often falls away in conversation. In the course of your efforts you’ll end up meeting lots of extroverts. Add a few of those to your network and they’ll pave the way with introductions from their own networks.
Do your homework
One of the most important aspects of successful networking is having definite objectives. Are you trying to meet people in the same field? In related fields? What for? To expand your knowledge? To offer your services? To collaborate? To grow your business? To get their help? If you don’t have a definite purpose or objective then all you’re going to have for all your networking efforts is a lot of connections with nothing to connect them to.
Be clear about what you want to convey about yourself. What you’re looking to gain, what you have to give. Are you looking for a job? Are you looking to change jobs? To expand your business? To gain clients? The answers to these questions will determine who you want to network with, what message you want to convey, what you want them to remember about you. Write the answers down. Memorize them. Create a personal pitch so when you’re in a networking situation, you’re clear on what you want to convey. This is where the meticulous, well thought out work you did for your online presence comes in handy!
One of the keys to networking online and offline is follow up. Follow up on every meeting or interaction within a few days. The last thing you want is for a person to scratch their heads – who? By the time you finally do follow up with them.
Whether in person, over the phone, or over the net, your most valuable networking tool is you. You are your product, know your benefits, what you can do for others, how you’d like to collaborate. Have your business cards ready. Know your personal pitch. Smile. Be confident.