I wouldn’t be where I was if it wasn’t for…. someone.
Okay, just so we’re clear… we aren’t using people here. We’re networking! I’ll explain the difference in a bit.
The main point of this post is that if you aren’t networking in your life… well, you’re kind of missing out… and making things fifteen times harder for yourself.
I initially mentioned how important networking is in my blog post 10 Lessons I Learned in the Business World (and not in school). Networking was mentioned in Lesson #9. I wanted to devote a post to it today because it is that important.
I am pretty sure this is what you think of when you think of networking. Some cheesy, name-tagged, b.s. small-talk affair.
But I’m here to tell you… there’s more to it than that. Yes, those formal network ‘speed date’ events do happen. And they aren’t all that bad if you are in the the right group. Oh yes, networking can exist outside of forced cocktail events. I can single-handedly thank networking for:
My current job, my two largest clients, the majority of my friends, my volunteer leadership positions, my car, and many of my travel adventures/stories.
Why is networking so great? It helps you get in front of the right people for any of the following:
1. Getting a job. Every job I’ve ever had, with the exception of one (my first job ever) I acquired through networking. Whether through a sorority alum, a networking group, a friend, a former colleague… jobs have come to me on the majority of occasions versus the other way around. In my current company, a referral is looked at more positively than a cold candidate. It really is who you know/who knows you.
2. Building your business. I mentioned my two largest clients came from networking partners. These networkers are people who are also in sales with whom I have great relationships. Actually, believe it or not, I have not been able to set either of them up with any clients, but they are okay with that. Why? Referring me in solidifies the relationships that they have with (our now mutual) clients. These clients now further trust their judgment and suggestions because they followed my networker’s advice and met with me.
3. Finding a spouse/mate. Many couples have met off of a blind date that a friend had set up for them. I dated someone for two years that I met on a date. I mentioned to my co-worker at the time I was single and she set the whole thing up. She knew we would connect and was right (for two years, anyway :P).
4. Helping a friend. Maybe you need help with something. Getting tickets, or you’re a big fan of Jimmy Kimmel or something. Or maybe your friend needs help with something and you have the skill set or the connections to do it. Many people find joy in helping connect friends with other friends because it only makes the friend pool bigger and stronger, and maybe helps both people out at once. Or, they just want to help you as a friend.
5. Helping a cause. I have worked for several charities and I can’t tell you how valuable my networking relationships have been in my charity fundraising, volunteering, and donation. If I didn’t have the relationships I have with people, I would never be able to achieve my portion of contributing to that charity. I donate funds and time, but it is so much greater, more impactful and meaningful when I have people join in.
I understand that this all sounds very very selfish. It does sound like you kind of are ‘using’ people to get what you want.
Well, here’s the deal. It’s true. But here’s why it’s ok- here’s why people actually enjoy networking with each other:
1. People love helping people. Think about it. How good do you feel when you can help someone? It feels good. People by nature want to help people. It’s good karma. And that ain’t a bad thing.
2. You may be able to connect them in some way in the future. Everyone has special gifts/friends/talents and your networking buddy may also need a favor from you. Not that your buddy will necessarily be asking… but if they need to buy a house one day… they may think of you, the realtor. Or set you up with one of their friends. You just never know. If you have a professional relationship like I do with many other salespeople- we’re on the lookout for opportunities for each other because we know ultimately we’ll both benefit in the end. If it’s a personal friendship… well, read onto the next point.
3. You have a great relationship with that person. You want them to succeed and do well, because, they’re your friend/relative/what-have-you. Or they want the same for you. Neither of you don’t necessarily need anything in return… you just want to help a brotha out, you know?
So, this isn’t going to work if you’re shy about asking for help or talking about your passion/work/dating life etc.. You have to be open enough, and honest enough to talk about this with people. You should also get over thinking you’re one of those people that just asks for favors all the time. If you are one of those people- then, yeah, you’re annoying. It needs to be a real and genuine request/conversation/mention, or people will just think you are a greedy annoyance.
People aren’t going to know and aren’t going to connect you/or vice versa if no one talks about it.
And by all means, thank your networking partner. They’re going to feel great that they could help a colleague/friend. If the connection doesn’t work out- it shouldn’t affect your relationship, so long as you follow the rules for networking:
1. Approaching the Networker. Make sure you know them. If you don’t know them, hopefully it’s because you have a mutual friend. Just today I got an email and a phone call from two different people that I didn’t recognize… wanting me to hook them up with something related to my company. So there’s an example of those annoying greedy people- mainly because we have no relationship established. It would have been fine if they prefaced it with “can you tell me more about… ?” versus “can you hook me up?” I tried to help best I could, but couldn’t fulfill what they were asking. Now, if it is someone I have an established relationship with… a friend, family, etc. by all means, ask. I want to help you any way I can. Or just mention something to me about it.
2. If they say no – then no worries. You’re still in the same spot you were in before and you’ll just have to get more creative.
3. If they say yes- then thank them. I love giving them a thank you note or related gift for taking the time to help me out. If they offer the help without me asking, I too show gratitude and appreciation for them through our friendship.
4. Contacting networker’s connection – before dropping the name of my connection, I ask permission, unless they say go ahead and connect with them, or direct me not to mention their name. Sometimes people will connect you, but want to keep themselves out of this particular request. Just honor that, and be thankful for their assistance. If it’s okay, let the new connection know how you know your mutual contact and what you were hoping to accomplish. Keep it simple.
5. Follow-up – make sure to thank all parties involved… the connection, the networker… appropriately. You know the people and the situation. I usually take work networking colleagues out to lunch- my treat. Friends, I’ll give a thank you note, bottle of wine, or take them out to dinner.
So how does one network?
1. Just start making friends. Seriously. It is all in who you know, and more importantly, who knows you. And guess what, the more people you know, well, the more you are networked. True story.
2. Proactively connect people. Start helping people right away. Pay attention to what they may need and how you might be able to help. You’ve just networked.
3. Attend a formal event. Formal events are great on a professional level, because then you address the elephant in the room- ‘we’re all here to use each other and get into accounts’ – there, I said it. But guess what- you can also form really great friendships. I call one of my greatest networkers my “work bestie” because we are CONSTANTLY on the lookout for opportunities for one another.
4. Ask. I know this is probably hard for some of you- but as I mentioned above, if it’s a good friend, they’ll want to help you. I even ask for referrals with prospects who reject me… and guess what… many times they give me referrals into businesses that I couldn’t get into if I tried. Even though I couldn’t help them… they wanted to help me. You just never know. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
I know I wouldn’t be where I am in my career and life experiences, had it not been for networking. Give it a try and see how it goes. It may get you a lot farther -in whatever your ambition- in a shorter amount of time, and everyone can feel positive from it!