Dear Orna: I'm not sure if I'm missing something. Everyone is all about networking and I just don't get it. It seems insincere, pretentious and even manipulative to me. Am I looking at it the wrong way?
~ Signed: Here's My Business Card!
Dear HERE'S MY BUSINESS CARD: Thanks for your card, but you're missing the point. As with most things in life, you get out of a relationship what you put in. So decide what you're genuinely looking for, before you embark on your networking journey. Are you seeking a support group? A source of information? A link to a new job? Or a foundation for new business? Most people seek some sort of combination in a network that fulfills specific needs as well as some emotional support.
It's Not About You
If you're a good networker, you already know, it's not about what your contact can do for you. Successful business networking is about what you can do for others. And you have to trust that in some way, someday, maybe in the most unpredictable way . . . what goes around comes around and when you need it most, your network will be there to help you.
The Worst Mistake You Could Make
The worst business mistake a professional can make is not building a professional network until they really need one. When you've already lost your job, or are desperate for new clients, then it's a little too late. Don't wait. Start building your network now.
So, You're Not a Natural . . .
What if "networking" goes against the grain of your natural personality. You're an introvert, an intellectual, not so great at small-talk. If that's the case, you probably need to network even more in order to expand your business circle. Here's a suggestion: When you're at an event, whether it's a wedding or a business conference, use Dale Carnegie's strategy in How to Make Friends and Influence People: smile, ask a question and then listen. People warm up to anyone who shows an interest in them and they usually love to talk about themselves. So be a good listener, and be sure to follow up.
Following up is the key to making a solid connection. Send them a link to an article they might be interested in or simply connect with them online through a professional sight like LinkedIn. When you reference the conversation, a true connection is made.
Or better yet, join a professional organization that relates to your interest. You will surely find lots of like-minded people and if you go the extra mile and hold a volunteer position within the organization, you will naturally meet and socialize with many of the members. They will become the core of your network.
It's Not All Business All the Time
Of all the areas where networking can help you, the most important are probably getting new business, finding a job and having relationships with people who can help you out when you need it. But to build a genuine network, you must develop personal relationships. When you talk abut common topics such as sports, family, travel or anything else that interests both of you, that is when you create a deeper connection.
You'll soon notice that you are building a friendship, not just a business relationship. This is at the core of a great network, because when a friend needs you, you are more likely to help than if distant business acquaintance reaches out.
The Secret to Networking Success
The secret to networking success is to give back as much as you can. Successful networking is never about getting what you want, it's about both getting what you want and making sure the other person is getting what they want and need, too. So make business networking all about them. The beauty of that is, when you focus on how you can help others, it will make you feel better about yourself, calm your discomfort and ultimately benefit you beyond your wildest dreams.
Make a connection Ask you how you can help. And always follow up.
You will build a wonderful and loyal network for life!