Just yesterday I came across a great article on the Pin Striped Suit blog (authored by Matt) that spoke about why networking is a dirty word: http://thepinstripedsuit.com/2012/05/13/networking-is-a-dirty-word/. This article struck a chord with me and I thought I would put my own little spin on it.
Networking is about making RELATIONSHIPS it is not about getting the all mighty cards to add to your rolodex of people you may or may not ever contact (more likely never). I mean think about it and look around you probably have a stack of cards lying around somewhere, here is an exercise: flip through them, pull out every single card that has a name on it that you really know and that you would invite for a drink or for a catch up; When you have made that pile of people you really know and would spend some time getting to know then DO IT! Invite them out, chat about their work and who they are. Then the other pile, most likely the bigger pile, throw it OUT! You will never contact them.
Networking is more than getting 1000 “friends” or “likes” on Facebook and certainly is more than finding yourself swimming in Twitter followers. I was hosting a seminar only a week or two ago about Social Media and one of the participants asked how many followers is a really “good” number to have. My advice was quite simple, make sure that you have a network that when you reach out to them they respond. Of course this network can be small or it can be big but the only real value in a network is when it responds when you post, when you ask a question, when you seek advice. If you have a network that is engaged I argue it doesn’t matter how big or how small it is but rather how often you can interact with it. If you can interact with it and there is value in the network for everyone then most likely the network will grow.
Again networking is about building relationships so don’t ever forget that your network goes TWO ways. You can’t simply continue to ask questions, seek advice, and/or sell stuff all the time but rather sometimes you must also be willing to help out, respond to others request, speak up when someone takes the time to put themselves out there. Keep the conversation going and your networks (notice the ‘s’ yes you can have multiple) will thrive.
I really like that in Matt’s post about networking he wrote “find ways to create value for your contacts.” This is perhaps one of the most important steps that almost everyone usually forgets. If those people in your network are happy and you are finding ways to help make and keep them happy then believe me they will want to reciprocate, don’t you think?
When you are physically at an event and someone approaches you for the all important CARD SWAP, next time why don’t you stop them and ask them some questions. Play a small game with them see if they really want to get to know you or if they are just handing out cards. Be cautious with your cards-you don’t have to throw cards at everyone you meet hoping that they will be able to BUY from you or pass on your information to someone really important. Instead take the time to get to know them and see if you have a connection. A general rule that has often worked is that if I see that I could invite that person to my dinner table for a conversation then they are definitely getting a business card. Don’t be afraid to laugh at a few jokes or even talk about things that are not directly related to work.
One last point that needs to be reiterated from Matt’s great post on his blog: be consistent in staying in touch. When you find that you haven’t heard from someone in a little while one of the best ways to reconnect is just send them a quick email or a give them a quick call and see what they are working on these days. Ask them a few questions, try and remember what you talked about last and what they were up to. You can even cheat a little bit sometimes, I use social media and I keep a bit of a database that helps me make up some questions before I get back in touch with a long lost contact.
Finally this wouldn’t be a good ass kicking post if I didn’t talk about getting over your fears when networking. If you want to meet someone then there are a MILLIONS ways to get in touch with them now so reach out, don’t be afraid. For goodness sakes any contact you want to make is just another person like you. Remember the contact you are looking to make (famous, important, or not) was most likely exactly where you are now so reach out, tell them your story, and invite them on a skype chat or if they are close enough invite to get them a coffee, a beer, or even buy them a lunch.
Bottom line is: build relationships, get to know people, offer them some value and your network will thrive.
*cautionary note: this post does not by any means suggest to say that you have to LOVE every single person in your network and that you need to invite them over all the time and be best friends but if you want your network to thrive then you have to want to at least know a few things about each of your contacts.