In business today, it’s less about you and more about your community of followers. How do you grow a community? You need to network. So what is networking really, and how can you get better at it?
There’s no shame in not knowing what networking is – even though chances are you’re doing it and often.
Every interaction where you give information, and in return, you receive information is networking. You’re collaborating with people.
Networking is something we can all improve upon, and you don’t need years of practice to be good at it, so
Establishing business connections
Here are our tips on perfecting your unique style of establishing business relationships.
How do you know you are networking?
Benjamin Franklin once said the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. He’s not wrong, but we believe there are two more givens in most people’s lives – delivering presentations and dealing with people.
No matter where you go, you are giving presentations at school, at work and at home.
Throughout your life, you will always need to deal with people, whether at home, work, or public. Networking is both presenting and dealing with people.
80 per cent of jobs and opportunities are found through networking, and 20 per cent are not.
Twenty per cent of people use networking effectively, and 80 per cent do not. So if 20 per cent of all people are using networking to get at 80 per cent of all the opportunities, what should you be doing? Networking!
Give without expectation
Networking is not asking for a job and it is not just taking what you can from a connection. To give without expectation is to ask every contact, “What can I do to help you?”
Now here’s the hardest part – you have to actively listen because every person has his or her story. However, this action alone will help build up your reputation, integrity and personal brand because not many people actually listen, so when you do, you’ll be remembered for it. Plus, that good karma will come back to you.
Know your value
With any networking scenario, there will be the requirement for ‘give and take’. Many people, especially youth, don’t realize what value they can provide to their peers and older and younger people.
Every person has value, and it comes from your experiences, energy and enthusiasm, personality, and contacts. Beyond that, you should get comfortable with knowing your personal brand and elevator pitch.
Take to the time to understand what you bring to the table.
Networking is not just I want to meet you but also I want you to meet me.
Build the relationships
Networking is just the start. Your ultimate goal is to build a relationship. That is where the true value of networking comes into play because you will get advice, support, mentorship and a higher likelihood of opportunities coming your way.
Everyone is a bridge
We forget that every single person we meet can be a bridge to someone else. Perhaps that cashier has an uncle who works at the company you have targeted for a new job, or the random meet in an elevator, a subway seat, and New Year’s Eve party is really not that random at all.
Networking strategies are great, but learn the tactics
Almost every networking article talks about the typical strategies – have business cards, create your pitch, have a plan, etc. But very few talk about actual tactics. You need to learn how to enter a conversation, ask the right questions and leave the conversation.
The best tactic to enter a conversation is to use your “power words” such as:
- “Excuse me…”
- “Sorry to interrupt…”
- “Pardon me…”
Your ‘power words’ will get you into any conversation. Just make sure you are clear and loud enough to be heard.
You should also ask open-ended questions such as:
- “What are you passionate about?”
- “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
These questions invest, engage and open up the conversation. Then, when you need to leave, again, use your power words from above and mention the next step you’d like to take (e.g. email, call, coffee, LinkedIn connection).
Leverage online networking is now expected, so build a compelling presence
Social networking platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, are perfect for creating your own networking community.
Start building your profiles on social media. If you are not sure where to be, think about who you want to network with. For example, if the majority of the people and companies you admire are engaging on LinkedIn and Facebook, then you need to be there.
Having a strong profile, responding to articles and updates, and connecting with people you have networked with will build your online brand.
Not following-up renders networking useless
So often, people exchange business cards and never contact each other. Or they add each other on LinkedIn, and the networking dies there. Remember you are building a relationship, and you want to be memorable.
Following up is critical to making networking work effectively.
For example, when speaking at a national conference with 500 young entrepreneurs – 75 people took action by taking our contact details (business card), 21 people followed up, and two are now part of our networking collaboration.
However, see the glass half full and focus on the 2 or 0.4 percent who are now part of your network – not the 99.6 percent who, for whatever reason, didn’t find the connection useful.
You gotta want it!
Networking, like leadership, is something you have to want to do and be good at it.
Everything worth having requires preparation. So for your networking, be prepared and plan your questions, rehearse your tactics, offer to help, use social networking, follow up and build the relationship.