I spend a lot of time in my life talking to folks about the value of networking. In a tough economy it’s important to have connections, which can open doors that may seem nailed shut. It’s heartbreaking to see people who have never created a network for themselves try to build one when they are in a crisis. It’s like having a fire in your house and not knowing where the phone is to call the fire department.
My network has helped me start a business, get a job, obtain health information and help raise over 100K for charity. My network is huge and active. It’s not about having the highest number of contacts on Facebook or LinkedIn. It’s about an active exchange of information, power and opportunity.
I have realized that most folks don’t fully understand what networking is and how to use it to their advantage. It’s also clear people are generally uncomfortable asking for help and that stops so many from reaching out in advance of their need. In that light, I thought I’d jot down some things I think are valuable to know.
- Networking is an exchange of power, opportunity and information. It is not a waste of time and it’s not just exchanging business cards or phone numbers.
- You don’t have to “like” everyone in your network. You do have to develop contacts with people in, up and around your current role. There are folks in my network I don’t consider friends, but I do consider them important people to know.
- Know the difference between a network and a support group. If there is wine and crying – it’s a support group. You should have both and use both!
- You should dedicate a minimum of one hour per week to developing your network. Coffee meetings, lunches, or a quick drink after work are easy ways to make connections with peers, leaders, and co-workers. These efforts will help build your champions and allies in your own company.
- Have connections in your “non-work” world as well. Contacts at church, associations and community partnerships are important, and teaching your children or young people in your life to start building a network early is key. If you look at successful individuals, most have networks that started rather early. College also creates network connections that will last a lifetime.
- If you don’t know how to network – volunteer. It’s a great way to meet people and gives you access to senior folks in the association or groups in which you are interested. You can’t just show up, sit alone or with folks you know and think you are networking.
- Do your homework before going to an event. Google the presenters and the folks you can confirm are attending. This will provide information to help fuel a conversation and make connections. If nothing else, make sure you thank the organizers of the event with a handwritten note.
- Don’t walk up to a complete stranger at an event and ask for a job or for a favor. Find a way to make a connection, make an introduction and then follow up at a separate time. If they offer assistance, that’s great! Make sure to follow up on that too.
- Learn to be of service and help make connections for other people. Introduce folks who may have something in common or could benefit from one another. I promise, the more you give, the more people will be willing to extend themselves to you.
- Have a great handshake and a good business card – seriously. It’s amazing how many folks don’t have either. A bad handshake is like wearing flip flops to a formal event. It might get you noticed, but not for something you want to be noticed for And not having a business card gives you a communication disadvantage.
- Don’t think every social media tool is a positive networking experience. Be thoughtful about what you share and where you share it. Putting every thought out into cyberspace can destroy your brand and your network (you see this every day on the news!).
This is a short list of some of the top things I share in the speeches I give. Remember, you are the CEO of your own life and career. Networking is part of the due diligence you need to do to secure your future. Even if you don’t aspire to be the CEO of a company, having a strong network can be a transformative and powerful part of your future.