Networking – your way

I confess:  I’m a born-again networker.  For years, a lousy networking, believing it to be something a bit fluffy and something nosey or lazy people did when they should have been working, but over recent years I found my way, discovered extraordinary value, and I’m ready to shout it from the rooftops!
Many people are put off networking because:

1) they believe it’s false and manipulative
2) they hate the idea of “working a room” and feel rubbish at small talk
3) it’s something you do when you have done everything else .. a bit of a luxury (and you’d rather clear out the stationery cupboard or have root canal treatment before heading to a networking event)
4) they dislike people that refer to themselves as “great networkers” as they are often people with poor morals that climb their way to the top through pressing the flesh, finding short cuts because of who they know, not what they’ve accomplished or what they are capable of
The problem can often be that our idea of networking is collecting as many business cards or contacts on Linked In as possible, and that you network when in a herd at a conference.

Time to change that image … networking can be whatever you want it to be, and there are some really simple rules to making it work for you.

Rule 1 – Network your way
If you can’t bear the idea of working a room amongst a couple of hundred other people, then don’t do it.  So many clients have shared that this very idea puts them off networking, perhaps because they have introverted preferences, or because it feels false.  Yes – for some it works, but it you’d rather not network this way, think more practically.  Great networking can happen when you least expect it … when you’re introduced to a contact by a colleague, when you’re chatting by the coffee machine, when you see someone inspirational in a journal article … anything can prompt real, quality networking.

Rule 2 – Quality not quantity
Don’t think that the more contacts you have, the better networker you are; in fact, today that often identifies “collectors” who wrongly believe it to be an advantage, yet can you truly manage your network if you have more than 500 contacts?  Perhaps in some exceptional cases, where it’s part of the day job, but for us mere mortals, unlikely.
The value that you release in your network can be enormous, simply by having a handful of meaningful contacts.

Rule 3 – Network with people that you like and respect.
Don’t bother networking with people you don’t like so much, as you’ll never keep that contact alive … it’s wasted energy, it’s false and it’s a dead end.  A trusted relationship is far more effective and valuable than a superficial one, especially with people whose values reflect your own, and those that are accomplished in their field.

Rule 4 – Do good things for good people: the bank balance of networking
I firmly believe in leaving people better off than when you first found them.  I remember the old Royal Mail campaign that said “I saw this and thought of you…” that suggested that we could put thoughtful things in the post to friends and family.  I did exactly this with friends and family, and then integrated it into work – it really works for me.  It takes seconds to send someone an article on email, or to recommend a provider that may help them with their current challenges.

Do something good and helpful, unprompted, and you’ll build a healthy credit balance in your account of networking, so that if you do ever need to make a withdrawal, you’re in the black to be able to do so.  You’ll be surprised to discover that value is reciprocated willingly by your contacts who are only too happy to help.

When you do need a favour, be up front about it when you re-connect with them.  Say “I realise we’ve not caught up in a while, but I’d really value your thoughts on something …. “, and most people will be extremely generous.  I sigh quietly to myself if I receive a call that pretends that they were just thinking about me, then spends 10 minutes pretending to care and listening badly before an “oh, and by the way,” which is usually followed by a request to send over vast quantities of work/resource for free.
Which reminds me ….

Rule 5 – Don’t be cheeky!
Whilst a good network releases huge value to you, it’s not to be drained of all its goodwill!   The requests I mention above, in a couple of cases, equated to months of research/hard work/sleepless nights that is being asked for as a favour, as though you’d just been asked if you would lend them a pencil.  Be reasonable, and don’t get a reputation for being a freeloader.  Your networking reputation will crash quickly.

Rule 6 – Put people in touch with other people
Such an easy thing to do, but if you see an opportunity to cross-fertilise your network, then do exactly that.  It really helps others, whilst you take the glory for being an amazing networker!

The risk if you don’t network?  Sadly, I have to say that not networking is naive and risks you limiting your impact, your success and your longer term career.  I know of so many people that tell themselves that they don’t have the time to network, but truly – this is the key to your time management, and it’s time to trust the power of networking to help solve all of those drains on your time.  Please, don’t kid yourself … networking is essential.
Stop the world for an hour.  Take a look t the things that are clogging up your diary, and just consider what might be at the heart of it.  Chances are, your network will have a great solution for this, and by bothering to network, you may just overcome all the things that are stopping you from networking, transforming your leadership.

The benefits to clever networking?  I can’t believe I even think this now, but networking has to be one of the most value-loaded activities that you can involve yourself in.   In just a short time, networking can:

– help you solve challenges – whether they are day to day issues or major projects
– quickly and accurately find your shortlist of possible providers or recruitment candidates, saving you time and increasing your confidence
– provide you with a sounding board, mentoring or coaching
– find potential career opportunities
– be a really very clever development solution, saving you days on courses or in  conferences

What are you waiting for?