It’s no secret that amassing a solid professional network is a potent means for landing jobs or attracting new clients long before your competition even knew they were up for grabs. But reaping the benefits of networking takes more than simply understanding its importance.
Successful networking requires a game plan…and practice.
If you can’t match a face to every name in your Rolodex, you’re doing it wrong. Fortunately, learning to network properly is easy, it just takes a little effort.
Networking is a Contact Sport
The biggest mistake that professionals make when building their network is assuming that contacts will come naturally. “Network” is a verb and verbs require action.
Think about when you started college as a Freshman. For a week it felt like you were going to spend the next four years friendless and alone, but by the time you graduated you had a whole slew of lifelong friends.
You did it by meeting people on your floor, chatting with classmates after lecture, joining clubs and participating in activities.
It works exactly the same with professional networking and there are four different types of groups that you need to get involved with:
- Casual Contact Networks – These groups usually meet once a month and provide an opportunity to mingle with local business leaders and entrepreneurs across all industries. Membership is not generally required to attend casual contact events.
- Strong Contact Networks – More formal and structured, these groups generally meet more often and allow time for the express purpose of exchanging business referrals. Membership is generally limited and requires a higher level of commitment.
- Knowledge Networks – Joining a professional association is a great way to exchange ideas and information with other professionals that work in your particular field.
- Online Networks – Social media networking is not limited to LinkedIn, but that’s certainly a great place to start.
Cultivate Relationships, not Sales Leads
If you feel uncomfortable networking then you’ve probably been taking the wrong approach. The idea is not to prepare a mini sales pitch for recital every time you hand out your business card. What you ought to be doing is focusing on making friends.
Don’t imagine every new contact as a potential client. Instead, see them as the gateway to an entirely new network of potential clients.
Never ask a complete stranger for a business referral or suggest that you work together prior to building a relationship. Taking a “direct sales” approach might land you a client or two today but it’s an ineffective networking strategy in the long-term and misses the big picture.
Remember that the goal is to forge deep relationships with your professional contacts. It’s less about who you know and more about how well you know them.
Diversification isn’t just for your Investment Portfolio
Having a broad professional network is just as important as having a large one. Never limit your network to individuals involved only in your line of work.
A solid contact is anyone who can connect you to people that you otherwise would never have met. And face it, often times the obstacles we face in business stem from problems that we can’t predict. Developing a diverse network increases the likelihood you’ll know someone who can help you out when unforeseen issues pop up out of the blue.
Maintain your Network
Keeping in touch with your contacts is just as important as making them in the first place.
Never ring someone up you haven’t spoken to in ages to ask a favor. Instead, reach out when you don’t need help and they’ll offer to pitch in on their own when the time arrives.
The advent of email and social media make it easier than ever to maintain your network. Share a link, recommend an article, say Happy Birthday…it’s easy, and all this simple stuff really does add up.
There’s an old networking adage that says “Never eat alone.” Find the extra twenty minutes it takes to dine with a colleague instead of grabbing take-out.
It’s better to give than to receive
Successful networking involves a perpetual give and take. The more you give the more you will receive.
This is a crucial element of networking that many people fail to recognize.
It’s not that favors need to be quid pro quo, but over time contacts that see you primarily as a taker will be less likely to think of you first when that hot new start up needs to hire someone just like you!