Networking – how business is done
Everywhere I look I hear more and more about networks. Social networks, business networks, networking clubs, networking evenings, etc. etc. ad. Nauseum.
Networking is how real business gets going, how deals get done, how results are achieved. Done properly it is both efficient and effective. It is no coincidence that the most successful businesses and most powerful people turn up for important networking opportunities.
Many definitions of networking rely on collecting contact details from lots and lots of people. I feel this is wrong.
Networking means knowing who’s doing what, what they want to achieve, how to help and – importantly – having their permission to get involved. Likewise a good network also means people knowing what you want and them getting involved to help where they can. Effective networking is about helping each other to succeed. I believe that If you can do this then the universe will provide opportunities for you to create your own success.
Six Rules of Networking
1. Love your contacts
I don’t mean take an unholy fascination in your address book (though bad data should be avoided!). What I mean is to treat your contact list as if the people on it are your oldest and dearest friends. You must truly want the best for these people and gladly do what you can to help. If you can’t like someone on the list and you don’t want them to succeed, frankly, they are not in your network. Make that distinction and look on members of your network with generosity and love.
2. Find and respect boundaries
Respecting boundaries should be obvious. If someone says – don’t call me at home, or don’t use my mobile, or plain please don’t contact me again. Then respect it. Nothing will damage your reputation more than being known as an unwelcome persistent caller.
Likewise establishing where the boundaries are is important. To find out where the boundaries are just ask. I used to be surprised about how willing people were to help once they had been asked for their permission. Be careful as many senior people have mechanisms to stop you contacting them in the first place (PA’s etc). These people cannot grant you permission – so try not to get blocked out before you’ve really found out.
3. Be generous, give without expectation
Networking is sometimes described in terms that imply a trading of favours – I’ll do this if you do that. This is not how it works. You must give help and information to your network without any expectation of return. The successes you create for others will build your reputation and will attract generosity. The reciprocal format of exchange is created automatically by cross-linking from network members and its effect builds over time, it is not a one-on-one trade.
4. Add value every time you meet
The quickest way to have permission withdrawn is to become a persistent caller who brings nothing of value.
When you plan to call or meet someone do your research before you go, put yourself in their shoes and think of ideas that might help them. Give them ideas away for free when you meet.
If you meet someone unexpectedly, make sure that as you catch up on news you ask what sort of help they would appreciate to help them get to their goals. Then go find ways to provide it, don’t forget and follow-up quickly.
5. Don’t waste time (yours or theirs)
If you are building a network it will take time. Time is your only truly fixed resource. You cannot borrow it, or buy more of it. You only have around 2000 working hours a year, so make each one count.
Know how to help the member of your network and get there as efficiently as you can. Look to use group interactions (dinners etc.) where you can achieve increased impact for you and your network within the time allocated.
If a meeting is scheduled for 30 mins and you’re done in 20, then politely find a way to leave and give your contact some time back in their day, they will thank you for it.
6. Build network power
If the intent of your networking efforts is to create business value for members it needs powerful people within it. Power comes from the ability to marshal resources (through ownership, hierarchy, influence, reputation, etc.). The more powerful your network the more resources you can influence to support your agenda.
Spend time thinking and planning to help people with more (or different) power than you have. Be generous with your time to those less powerful than you, but effective (and therefore soon to be powerful people) are the ones that approach and plan to help you. Like you they should invest hours in people more powerful than themselves. It is not in your interests to invest your time to help those less powerful than you – therefore it is their duty to make the moves.
Spend time thinking how to make people in your network more powerful. They should appreciate the effort you are making, and your network will become more powerful as a result.
Networking is an important skill and with more business being done through collaboration it will become increasingly so. It is an activity that you can allocate time to and it’s an activity that you can monitor the success of. Build a good network and opportunities will come to you. You build a good network by giving generously to people that matter.