‘The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work.’ — Robert T. Kiyosaki, Author
Five ways to succeed
Know your reasons for networking.
Re-acquaint yourself with people you already know.
Value both close friends and acquaintances.
Give, without expecting anything in return.
Learn how to measure your networking results.
Five ways to fail
Don’t waste time networking with family.
Try to make as many new contacts as you possibly can.
Get what you want out of every meeting.
Let your networking take its own natural course.
Network as soon as you can: sort out business detail later.
Networking. Everyone talks about it. But what on earth is networking anyway? Simply put, networking is the process of meeting new people, and maintaining valuable contact with these people, to the benefit of both you and them. It’s not a special business skill, it’s a human and social aptitude that we all have. But one of the most important things that can shape your networking, is knowing what you want out of it. Take a minute to consider the following:
Am I networking in order to change career?
Do I want to start networking after a career break?
Am I networking in order to grow my own business?
Am I networking to grow the client base of the company I work for?
If you want to change career, for example, you should be attempting to ‘break out’ of your existing network to source new contacts. Conversely, if you’re growing your own business, you may want to network in a focused way within one specific target market. Whatever your approach, remember this – networking presents opportunities in unexpected places, so never be closed to a serendipitous meeting, even if it is not in your ‘game plan’.
Identifying your existing network
You may be thinking ‘How can I network if I don’t even have a network?’ Well the good news is, you do, and it probably looks something like this:
Your family: a reliable source of support, information and local knowledge.
Your friends: people you rely on for support and ideas.
Your work or study colleagues, past or present: people who know your work skills can give insights into other roles that might suit you, and possibly new vacancies.
Your acquaintances: people you meet day-to-day – your barber, mechanic, neighbour etc.
Surprisingly, it’s the people you know least that could be most useful to you. Known as ‘weak ties’, these people are at the edges of your social network, so know a different set of people who may present fresh opportunities. The trick in successful networking is to invest time in these weak ties to ensure that, should an opportunity arise, it is your name that they think of first.
Rediscovering your existing network
So, you already have a personal network in place. As yet, it may be untapped. To breathe new life into this existing network, you need do little more than set aside some time and adopt a new way of thinking. All of us are guilty to some extent of dismissing the people we know ‘Oh that’s Mike, I worked with him in IT, bit of a web geek’ and leaving them languishing in the little stereotypes we’ve dumped them in. If you’re serious about networking it’s time to look at everyone you know with fresh eyes. What are their skills you don’t you know about? What are their hobbies? What are their aspirations? Who do they work with? What do they believe are your best talents? Spend time with friends, family and colleagues you’ve not seen lately. Make an effort not to hog conversation or go over old topics. Treat them as if you’ve just met. Listen (you’ll find insights into how to do this in Step 4). You’ll be amazed at what you will unearth.
Similarly, when you’re getting a haircut or doing the school run, don’t ignore everyone because you think the people you meet at these times are not ‘important’. Engage them in conversation, allow them to talk. Listen. Hey presto – you’re networking. Networking is a way of life; it affects and underlines the value of our interactions with all human beings – you can’t just save it for the moments labelled ‘Networking Event’.
Blood may not be thicker than water
When you are building an effective and supportive network it is important to know exactly who you can rely on in a tight spot. We have all heard the old saying ‘blood is thicker than water’ and many of us assume that our strongest ties are those that are related to us through blood or marriage. But in the world of business, it is often safest to assume nothing. It can be enlightening, at regular periods, to ask yourself the following questions: