Most people think about networking as insincere at best — and selfish at worst. This, of course, is the complete opposite of what networking is supposed to be — friendly, useful, and genuine.
Because networking is a “business activity” it’s easy to think that we need to act in a different way.
Most networking strategies come across as pushy, needy, or self-serving — even though the people using them rarely act that way in day-to-day life.
There are definitely genuine ways to do it and make it fun. So, in the spirit of helping everyone become a better Networker, here are some great networking tips for everyday life!
- Know what you are trying to accomplish. Networking is a time-honored tradition that most people apply every day without knowing it. View it as making contacts, creating relationships, even as making friends. The first step is to know what you want to do. The goal of networking should be to help other people. Yes, it would be nice if they helped you out as well, but networking is a two–way street. And your side is all about helping others, not asking them to help you. Asking for favors should only become a possibility once you have learned more about the person and provided some value to them. Your goals should not be on the forefront of your mind. You’re trying to develop a relationship with someone, which means you should be thinking about them. It’s your job to understand the people in your network, where they are coming from, and what’s important to them.
- Knowing the most people isn’t necessary, just the right people. No need to plaster your business cards across the industry or to pepper everyone with emails. Instead, focus on finding people that are relevant to you. As time goes on, you can decide if the interests that you share with someone are worth pursuing further. It’s better to have 5 people willing to help you out than it is to have 500 that simply know your name. Connect with people on a variety of levels from a wide range of areas. By growing your network outside of the usual areas you will be more valuable to people that are in your industry. The people you work with have personalities and multiple interests. With a broad network you can be the person that connects people across industries.
- Don’t have expectations. The fact that you reached out and made contact with someone does not put them in your debt. No one is required to “pay you back.” Instead of approaching networking with the goal of gaining favors, try reaching out with curiosity. Contact interesting and relevant people and see what happens. Some of them will respond and some of them won’t. Learn about the people that follow up. Find out what makes them interesting and how you can help them — and don’t expect anything in return. Every once and awhile you’ll stumble across someone amazing on accident, but it’s a lot easier to find who you’re looking for if you know who they are in the first place.
- Offer praise first instead of requesting help. Unless you have a mutual contact that is putting you in touch for a specific reason, it’s best to avoid asking for anything when you meet for the first time. Don’t ask for favors, for promotion, for advice, or even to meet up for lunch or coffee. Simply start by offering a short compliment. After they respond to this initial contact, you can begin moving things towards a more lengthy meeting. There are some situations where you need to ask for something, but don’t have the luxury of time to get to know them. Most situations don’t fall under this category, but if you must ask for something, then weave in requests for permission before you make an offer. Start by asking for permission to continue. “Can you do me a huge favor?” An additional benefit of this strategy is that you are getting the other party to say, “Yes,” to you. As a general rule, if you can get someone say yes to you three times, then the odds of your offer being accepted by them drastically increase. You don’t need to ask permission for everything, but if you’re opening a conversation where you will need to make an offer, then it can work wonders.
- Start by focusing on being friendly and helpful. The number one tactic you can use to build your network is by simply spreading information in a friendly and helpful way. Did you read a book that someone in your network will enjoy? Tell them about it or send them a copy. Are you using something that would help a friend with a project they are working on? Email it to them. Hear a new music album that a someone might enjoy? Send it their way. Building your network is the same as building friends. Be interested in what they are doing and offer friendly suggestions when you can.
- Ask if people want to be connected. If you’re apprehensive about connecting two people, then ask one of them if they want to be connected. “I know another person that’s doing Y. Would you like for me to introduce you sometime?” Even if they are not interested, they will appreciate the offer. Connecting like-minded people is a powerful way to enhance your network. The idea of doing this seems foreign to many people, but it is actually quite easy. Do you know two people who enjoy reading the same type of books? Or like the same sports teams? Or work in the same industry? You get the point. Don’t make it hard, just introduce the two of them by sharing their common interest. They can decide if they want to pursue the relationship further.
- Try to contact 3 to 5 per day. If you reach out to 3 new people every day, that would be about 1000 per year. Sending an email or making a quick call will only take about 5 minutes of your day. Not everyone is going to get back to you, but if you contact that many new people, then you’re bound to make significant progress. Everyone is busy. For most people, it’s simply a matter of timing. If you catch them on a good day, then they will happily talk or meet with you. If they’re swamped, however, then a simple “No” might be all that you get. Don’t take it to heart. In most cases, it’s not a reflection of you or what you said.
- Always follow up. One or two days after meeting someone for the first time, follow up with a brief email or note. This is an opportunity to develop the relationship by bringing up a topic that you discussed before or making a comment on an interesting topic. Following up with relevant conversation helps to anchor your previous interaction in their mind and displays more personality than just sending a message that says, “Thanks for talking!” Did you fail? Try reaching out in a different way. You don’t want to pester anyone, but if you give them a few weeks and don’t hear a response, then there is nothing wrong with being persistent. For example, dropping in to talk face to face has resulted in great conversations with people that previously ignored my emails. Sometimes switching it up is all you need to do.
- Networking is more about listening to what people say. Take the time to listen to people’s stories. You can only provide something of value to them if you listen to who they are and what they do. People enjoy doing business with those that they trust and like. The only way to build that trust is to engage with others in a helpful way. Yes, trust takes a long time to build, but insincerity takes even longer to overcome. Once you have developed a relationship and created a bond, then you can move on to asking for help.
- Many times the best networking opportunities involve real work. Volunteer for events, committees, or projects that will have interesting people at them — or better — working for them. Working on a project or task with someone is one of the best ways to develop a relationship. For example, volunteering for a non–profit can be a great way to get to know their influential board members. Speaking of work, Networking isn’t just about finding people who can help you. Sometimes the most valuable networking you can do is within your company. Perhaps your employer sponsors a charity ball. Other employees might consider this a real bore fest, but it’s a great opportunity to meet senior managers and their spouses and to support a cause the company considers worthy.
What are your best networking tips? How have you successfully built relationships? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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