What is networking? The official definition is to interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one's career.
But the better question is why network? What will it do for me? Networking has delivered more return on investment than any other tool in my business. Both financially and personally, my network has delivered so much value that I can’t even imagine what my situation would be like without it. If there is one thing that I could suggest that would be guaranteed to boost any business, networking would be it.
But how does it deliver value exactly?
Networking takes time. It is not an instant gratification thing. It is about human relationships, and they are not always fast burning things.
There are many benefits to networking but you have to remember that we are dealing with people. You have to keep that in mind. Going out with a “what can I get?” attitude is going to sink your efforts before you begin. But, of course you need to know what return you are going to get before you invest, so here is what you can expect:
Let’s start with a benefit that does not necessarily convert to money. Do not overlook the simple benefit of having friends in the business with no strings attached. We need to know someone has our back, that we have people who are there for us. It can be lonely when you work alone, with only a monitor light to keep you company.
Having someone who understands is extremely valuable on a psychological and emotional level. Your friends can keep you motivated, can be a sounding board for ideas, or will listen to you moan when you need it. When you are in a strange town it is nice to have company even just for meals. People need people.
In contrast with the touch-feely benefit of friendship, this is where the “show me the money, honey” kicks in. The most significant monetary benefit my network has brought me, and we are talking six figures from just one contact, is the opportunities they expose me to or introduce me to.
If you are not getting enough opportunities, then you need to build your network. Opportunities like joint ventures, client leads, partnerships, speaking and writing gigs, businesses or assets bought and sold … you name it.
All the best opportunities are shared person to person in back channels. Everything from employment opportunities to new clients. If two people are equally qualified then it goes to who you know, like and trust. A lot of the time even when the person you like is less qualified. Getting passed over for plum gigs? This is why. This one networking benefit alone has to be worth an astronomical amount. Advice
We all like to give friends advice, and sometimes they even ask for it!
There are some things The Google God can’t tell you. If I had paid for all the free advice I have received over the years from paid consultants then … well, I would have a massive deficit in my bank account or wouldn’t be writing this to you now.
We rely on our networks to advise us and keep us on track, and we give back to our networks in return. Give a lot and you have credit in the bank when you need to make a withdrawal. The better your network the more knowledge you can tap into.
There are informal advice channels like these, and there are formal arrangements such as consulting swaps or masterminds. I am doing a consulting swap with a self-development expert, he is fixing my brain and I am helping him with financial planning.
Masterminds are where a group of people with common goals and values get together to push, encourage and advise each other. If you are interested in my mastermind group, go to the mastermind tab on my website firstname.lastname@example.org
If you only get occasional advice from your network then you are in significant net profit from your efforts.
Someone once told me the definition of a friend is someone who will help you move with no notice and no expectation of payment. I’m not sure about that but I think mutual help is definitely part of the definition, and one of the ways you can benefit from networking. Not the moving thing, the helping part.
Promotion – Giving you a boost in traffic, reputation, or sales
Community – Helping you build conversation and community
Links – Links in terms of Google juice, or sharing news and info from their networks
Introductions – Connecting you to people you would like to meet or who they think are awesome
Getting you out of a hole – Fixing buggy code, giving you a heads up when you goof, or having your back when someone attacks
You become the people who you spend the most time with. This works in the negative, as any parent will have thought about while considering who their kids friends are or will be. It also works in the positive, if you surround yourself with the right people then the attitudes, habits, world view, and associations will rub off.
Apparently there is some scientific basis for this, but I have seen it enough in my own life to know it is true. I grew up in a place where success and wealth were considered wrong. If you had nice things then you must be a bad person. You can see all around you what that does to a community. So I gravitated towards people with a more positive mindset, who shared my goals and values. If nothing else I am happier for having motivating influences rather than depressing ones.
Modeling successful people is a proven way to improve your own performance, what better than to be able to model people up close and personal?
The tribe you select will have a profound impact on your work and life, so choose well. Every single new friend or contact you make is worth their weight in gold.
There is a danger that some people will take from this that they should go out with a gimme, gimme frame of mind. That’s not what I am talking about. My hope is that you will see that while the impact might not be immediate, the compound effects of networking are significant and long lasting.
How do you develop a network?
Step #1: Identify your network cluster. First, figure out where you want to focus your efforts. Do you want to work for a large corporation, a medium-sized company, or a startup? Are you interested in marketing, sales, manufacturing, IT or any other specific function? What are your geography limitations? Then, create a list of contacts within those parameters — not just executives within a chosen company, but also executive search specialists, consultants, and anyone else who can help within your areas of interest and expertise.
Step #2: Ask for ideas and advice. Contact each person on your list and say, “I was recommended to you by [so-and-so]. I’m hoping to get your ideas and advice for my job search, and would appreciate 15 minutes of your time.” During your interview, give them your brief elevator pitch outlining your background and skills, and then ask for their ideas and advice. Remember, this meeting is not about asking for a job. It’s about being very sensitive to your interviewee’s time, and listening carefully to what they have to say. As the meeting wraps up, ask for names of a couple of people they recommend you talk to. With each interview, you will gain two more leads. Within a few months, you will develop a large number of leads in your areas of interest.
Step #3: Follow up immediately with personal, handwritten thank-you notes to everyone you encountered during the meeting — not just your interviewee, but also to the executive assistant and even the person at the front desk — and mail it the day after your interview. Doing so signals that you are a quality person, that you care, and that you are on top of your game. This is an opportunity for you to establish a distinctive job search — make the most of it.
Step #4: Follow up with regular emails. Set up a tickler file and send a brief email on a regular basis to each or your interviewees saying, “I just wanted to let you know my search is becoming productive. I have spoken with [so-and-so you recommended], and thank you again for the contact. Meanwhile, if you hear of any opportunities, I would appreciate your forwarding them along to me. Thanks, and I wish you continued success.”
Step #5: Keep your network alive. Once you find your job (and you will), keep your network cluster intact by checking in. I’m still in regular touch with many of the people in my original cluster. I try to reciprocate their generosity whenever possible, and they have continued to support me when I most needed it.
Whether you are looking for a new job or assuring that you stay abreast of changes in your field, it pays to build your network carefully and keep it intact. You will find that people’s generosity is amazing if you treat them respectfully too.
The best relationships are born from mutual benefit, and that goes double for professionals who are building new networks from scratch.
Grow your social capital. Not just a buzzword, social capital is very real currency that can make your company stronger and even uncover new business opportunities. It’s all about whom you know, whom that person knows and whether that person is willing to help you.
Instead of asking what you can get from someone else, think about your connections and how you might be able to help them. This expands your network naturally so that when you want an introduction or need help, you know exactly whom to ask.
Consult your colleagues and connections who seem to know everyone. Scott Gerber, a “super connector” and founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, helped me when I needed strategic advice about scaling my business. He tapped into his network and increased my chances of speaking with someone whom I would never have connected with if I had reached out cold.
Although social capital isn’t a tangible resource, it still drives success. The wider your social reach is and the more people you help, the more power you've built behind your business.
Have a networking strategy. Networking is vital to your career, but you must have a strategy for doing it right. Think for a moment about how many hundreds of pitch emails someone like Mark Cuban receives each day from people who haven’t sold a single unit or raised any money.
Sometimes, it pays to swing for the fences. Other times, it’s a waste of your time and your connection’s time. Instead, always network with a plan and purpose. Attend local meetups, startup competitions, hackathons, demo days and open investor pitch meetings to widen your network organically; sign up for alerts for this type of events in your area.
Then, consider with whom you should connect and why. Will this connection create introductions for you or your co-workers? Does he or she know about your industry? Does his or her expertise mesh well with yours? Creating the right strategic relationship is crucial.
Focus on making a few high-quality connections. People who network merely to collect business cards have completely missed the mark. You can’t meet 50 people at a three-day conference and expect to instantly have a network.
If you’re good at networking, you may come out of an event with 10 to 15 potential contacts with follow-up actions or appointments (and a purpose for each connection) already established. Some of the best-connected entrepreneurs don’t have the biggest networks or the highest number of connections on LinkedIn. Instead, they might work with smaller, tightly knit groups of connections.
Making a plan for each connection forces you to clarify what your needs are and decide who can help you the most. On the flip side, you’ll meet others that you can help with your resources or expertise. Make these connections a priority, too.
The next time you find yourself across the table from a peer, a seasoned entrepreneur or, better yet, a super connector, cherish that person’s time, knowledge and connections. Think about not only about what he or she can do for you, but also what you can do for him or her.
When you’ve learned all you can from your new connections, pay it forward with new entrepreneurs who need guidance or introductions. You’ll eventually cash in on your networking karma and jump-start the next phase of your entrepreneurial journey.
Until next week,
May 14, 2018
Join me every Wednesday on my podcast “Unlocking the Secret to Living Rich”.
If you have questions or comments you can contact me at my email email@example.com or find me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @cindybbrown777
Who is Cindy B. Brown? Cindy is a CPA, MBA, CFO, mastermind facilitator and board member of public and private companies, business consultant, entrepreneur coach and a foremost expert in the field of business mastery. Cindy’s purpose is to motivate, educate and inspire people to live their richest life. She is the host of “Unlocking the Secret to Living Rich”.