Networking is the art of being connected. You know the old saying, "It's not what you know but who you know." Or, we have best-selling author and all around sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer's twist on it, "It‘s not who you know but who knows you." From personal experience, both of those mottos certainly hold true.
With the right network you can put what you know to use a lot easier and with better results. Networking is rarely written about, especially when compared to the popularity of sales and marketing articles. This is unfortunate, as networking is a secret success factor for most highly successful people.
Today you have so many choices about how and where you can network that it is important to evaluate your current networking efforts to determine whether they are aligned with your personal and professional goals. This means you actually need to create a "networking plan."
As presented in his book the Universal Truth of Connecting, Charlie Jones states, "The only difference between where you are right now and where you will be next year at this same time, are the people you meet and the books you read."
As soon as you are finished reading this article I suggest you make two lists. First, make a list of things you would like to or need to read. Second, make a list of the people you would like to meet that will help advance your networking goals.
In order to be efficient with your limited time, you need to establish clear networking goals. For example, my networking goals are:
- I want people to remember me in a positive way.
- I want people to view me as likeable.
- I want people to think of me and my services first if a need arises.
- I want people to feel comfortable recommending me to somebody else even if they have never utilized my services personally.
There are three categories of people you will want to consider as you put your networking goals on paper-past, present and future. Present are the people you currently know and have contact with. Past are people you know but have not stayed in contact with. Future are people who you would like to get to know.
If you followed me around for a day you'd see I talk to everybody! The lady in front of me at the grocery store, the server at the restaurant and, of course, people I meet while I am traveling. I could tell you countless stories of how people I have met on airplanes and restaurants have parlayed into networking relationships.
Recently I was traveling from New Jersey to Chicago with a connection in Atlanta. Sitting next to me was a young man who had a really awesome computer. Since my nickname is "Gadget," we started talking about his cool device. Soon Sean was downloading some new music to my USB drive. Through our conversation, I learned he was from New Zealand and was playing rugby at Florida State University while preparing for his LSAT.
Sean was very proud to play the New Zealand national rugby anthem for me. He was going to stay at the home of his future employer, a renowned commodities broker who lived in an affluent Chicago neighborhood. It was late at night and his directions to the home were confusing, so I decided to go a half hour out of my way and drive him to his destination. We arrived at a multi-million dollar mansion where he thanked me and disappeared into the darkness. We kept contact with a few e-mails but nothing ever really happened until a few months later.
I was having lunch at an outdoor restaurant in Indiana, at least sixty-five miles away. At an adjacent table was a little boy. We will call him Oliver. Well Oliver was a little bored and fidgety so I invited him to play Yahtzee with my wife and I. (We play Yahtzee everywhere we go) Oliver spent most of the time at our table and soon a conversation took place with his parents and grandparents.
As it turns out, Oliver's dad owns the mega commodities firm where Sean was doing his internship. Sean had told him about my driving him home a few months earlier. This good deed has turned into an amazing networking relationship that has produced two friendships and considerable consulting revenue. I guess it pays to talk to everybody!
I understand that everyone is not as outgoing as I am, so I suggest you design a one minute commercial. You simply create a comfortable and interesting way to introduce yourself and what you do. It should sound natural, not overly rehearsed or scripted with duration of around a minute. To help you create the right tone, pretend you are sitting at a bar drinking your usual and the stranger sitting next to you casually asks you what you do. The relaxed manner in which you would answer him is the perfect tone and wording for your one minute commercial.
Practice your commercial frequently. Repetition will help you feel more confident when talking to strangers. It will also give you a polished introduction.
When I meet interesting people that are aligned with my networking goals, I consistently do a few things. They may work well for you too:
- Stay in contact with them.
- Shortly after you meet, send them a card or e-mail.
- If possible, send them a piece of information related to something the two of you discussed in conversation.
- Work on building a relationship and giving them something of value.
- Do not ask for anything in return until you have a built solid relationship.
- Seek to understand other mutual contacts of friends and/or acquaintances you have in common.
- Telling personal stories opens the other party to share a story back.
- Make good eye contact with them during in-person encounters.
- Thank them for the meeting and let them know you enjoyed sharing time.
- After your encounter, look them up on the Internet to see what additional information you find out about them.
- Share some of your needs and desires.
- And, lastly, do what you say you are going to do.
Figuring out who they are and what they want is a key ingredient to moving the relationship along.
There are so many opportunities to network that you will have to decide which ones work best and are most comfortable to you. The Internet is full of them. One site that is extremely popular is LinkedIn. This website is geared to sharing contacts and testimonials among the people you know with the people they know and so on. It is worth a visit.
There are many networking organizations. Some are fee driven to bring business people together while others are more conventional. One that enjoys a solid national reputation is BNI (http://www.bni.com/). Local chambers of commerce and specific industry groups are a good place to start.
Visit several groups that spark your interest. Pay close attention to the tone and attitude of the group. Many groups will permit a few visits before requesting you to join. Once you find the right group, get involved by volunteering for a committee or a position in the organization.
When meeting individuals in these groups ask open ended questions. Avoid questions that prompt a simple yes or no answer. Those answers create short, uninteresting conversations. First and foremost, become known as a powerful resource for others. Remember, it's not who you know but who knows you.
Something that isn't often spoken about in networking books is how you create a personal brand. Your image is your brand. How you dress, how you speak and your mannerisms make up your image. Consider this: although astronauts are quite small in stature, when one enters a room everyone knows it. It is the way they carry themselves. They walk and talk with a certain air. They display confidence but not cockiness.
Once upon a time, while traveling to a business conference in Florida, my company's president and vice president of sales were dressed in warm-up sweats and baseball caps. To top off their outfits they added flips with white sport socks.
As COO, I was dressed with fitted casual slacks and a pressed, company-logoed polo shirt with polished loafers. They commented to me that it was a travel day why dress up? I explained that there were probably other people on the plane that were our suppliers, prospects and customers traveling to the same destination. Our company maintained a very polished and professional image and I knew we needed to continually reinforce that image and our brand. Sweats and flips were a complete contradiction and could undue a lot of hard work if seen by the wrong eyes.
Remember people spend time and do business with people they like. So refer back to the simplest of goals. Make yourself likeable.
Go out of your way to meet people along your life's journey. You will trip across many interesting people, you will learn a lot of fascinating things and you will build a level of conversational confidence that will make you a star in any setting. Follow your plan and your networking efforts will flourish.
Good Sources for More Information on Networking Effectively:
Never at Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz
Jeffrey Gitomer's Little Black Book of Connections by Jeffrey Gitomer
Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty by Harvey Mackay
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Construction Business Owner, December 2008