What is networking? Networking is building professionally, mutually serving relationships for the purpose of helping both parties attain goals. It’s interesting to note that the origin of the word “networking” according to Merriam-Webster involves “a system of elements (as lines or channels) that cross in the manner of the threads in a net.” Networking, along with word of mouth advertising, is 6 times more likely to bring in business than all forms of traditional advertising and direct mail combined. It can even be done by introverts! Networking is the most prevalent and cost effective way for small and home based businesses to attract new and repeat sales. People have always built professional networks informally, but there has been a recent focus on systematically building relationships with others.
What are the benefits of networking? Networking involves making friends and developing relationships. Not only is that fun, but it is essential for both new jobs and expanding contacts. It helps you find hidden opportunities and can set you apart from the competition. Networking allows you to overcome your natural shyness (for some) and enhance your self-esteem. From a business perspective, traditional advertising (because of the “clutter”) is becoming less effective as a promotion medium, while networking is becoming more effective.
What are some of the different types of networking? The obvious one is deemed “human networking”. This usually involves face to face communication, or possibly via telephone. It’s most effective, as both parties get to put a face to a name. That visual contact aids in recall and developing the relationship. Other types of networking include electronic/social-networking sites, and via mail (which is less effective). Networking can be formal, as in a scheduled meeting with someone, or informal such as meeting someone at a social gathering. Both can be just as effective if you choose for them to be.
It’s a good idea to write down some of the groups of people that you network with now. Visualize it is a target, with you at the center. The concentric circles represent your networks and the people they know. They can become part of your network too.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his national bestseller The Tipping Point, writes about Connectors. He states that Connectors “…know lots of people. They are the kinds of people who know everyone. Acquaintances, in short represent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have the more powerful you are. Connectors…are extraordinarily powerful. We rely on them to give us access to opportunities and worlds to which we don’t belong.” Connectors facilitate much of the interaction people have with each other. This interaction can be a business associate’s knowledge, a job, a restaurant recommendation, or a good book. Connectors help others get what they need by connecting people who don’t know each other. They also help you build a professional network. Connectors have a foot in so many different doors that they have the effect of bringing them all together. Fifty seven percent of jobs are found through personal connections, 18% are found through formal means such as ads and headhunters, and 22% are applied for directly. It’s ok if you’re not a Connector, but do you know any? If not, you may want to find some and become part of their network.
The following are 25 tips on how to go about creating successful networks:
- Consider an indirect approach. Use someone you know to introduce you to your target contact.
- Attend a conference and ask questions. Acknowledge someone else’s comments. Make a point at a meeting. Offer to help.
- Write positive Letters to the Editor in your local paper or industry magazine.
- Hand out unusual business cards; Collect and save business cards from others.
- Selective a few key associations or organizations and participate actively. Go to meetings as often as possible and work on 1 or 2 committees. People there are usually eager to network.
- Go to events early and plan to stay late. You can’t meet people when a meeting is in progress. Be sure to circulate too. Don’t spend too much time with 1 person.
- Greet people you’ve met in the past. Say something that shows you remember something about them. Ask how projects they are working on are going. Congratulate them on any recent successes.
- Always be sincere, or you will be seen as an opportunist.
- Follow up on leads. Leads are worthless if you don’t follow up on them. Do what you say you are going to do.
- Be generous about sharing business tips, leads, and referrals with noncompetitors. People will remember you for your help and generosity.
- Be humble. Nothing turns people off quicker than an arrogant attitude. Practice humility.
- Always say thanks. Thank you notes are a quick and easy way to connect with someone. Plus, a hand written card serves as a reminder of you every time the other person sees it.
- Always stay in touch. Check in with people and see how they are doing. Regular contact will allow the relationship to grow.
- Be authentic. There is a lot of manipulation in our society, so holding yourself to a higher standard will set you apart from the crowd.
- Don’t focus solely on your own niche or industry. Diversify and reach out to as many people as possible. Having people from a wide variety of fields in your network helps you become a Connector.
- Be genuinely interested. Always be sincere in your dealing with others. People love to talk about themselves and the more you understand about someone, the more you’ll be able to connect with them.
- Give more than you expect to receive. To build trust in your networking relationships, always seek to add more value to the people in your networks. Focus on giving your time, energy, and support.
- Start networking before you need it. Make it a habit to build your network. Relationships are cultivated over time.
- Always follow-up. When making new contacts, follow-up with a quick email or phone call within 24 hours of meeting someone. This can lay the foundation for fruitful relationships. It doesn’t take much effort, but it can make a huge difference.
- Use the network of others to expand your own network. Go out of your way to introduce yourself to people you have only heard of. Let them know you have heard of them and are pleased to get to meet them.
- Cultivate your integrity and stay true to your principles. It will build trust in your character.
- Learn about people’s goals. The best way to have an impact is to add value directly where it is most important to the other person. Find out the goals of people in your network and see how you can help achieve them.
- As your network grows, write down the names (and other contact information) of people in your network.
- Use your initiative to play an active role in networking. Be the person who starts the conversation. Be quick to introduce yourself and to offer help to others.
- Use your networking not only to benefit yourself, but also to benefit others. Connect people in your network that could provide value to one another. Focus on building a team of experts that you can contact for advice. People will be flattered that you appreciate their advice.