It’s not a dirty word.
The business of backscratching?
Or the art of developing relationships – the ultimate relationship marketing?
In desperate need of info (or a job), you:
- call up old contacts you haven’t seen in years;
- attend ‘networking’ events – that you hate;
- rush to some trade association meeting though your membership has long since lapsed;
- hand out your business card to anyone you meet.
That’s networking. Right? Wrong. That’s being a nuisance.
Networking requires a much more subtle knack …
The tricks of the trade
The five fundamentals of successful networking/two-way trade:
- Ask not what your contact can do for you – the toe-treading approach to networking is the ‘give and take approach’, where you keep taking and expect the person you’re asking for help to keep giving for nothing in return; change the focus from ‘I’ to ‘you’ – i.e. instead of what you need or want, lead with what the other person needs.
- Always have something to trade – remember the deal is reciprocal, so find out what:
…would be useful for or appreciated by the other networking party.
- Don’t expect an immediate payback – you may need to sow numerous goodwill seeds before you reap a referral.
- Remember it’s the little things that count – return those phone calls, e-mail that information, pass on that lead: that way you’ll be seen as reliable, and more likely to be top of mind when your contact has some information for you.
- Now when to ease off – if you’re not careful, you will quickly find yourself overdrawn on the goodwill bank; how will you know? People won’t tell you – they’ll just stop trading, returning your phone calls, contacting you unprompted.
You get no points for …
- leaving it until you need it – e. don’t wait until you lose that job, or need that new lead -; the networking should be on-going;
- asking only those you know – presumably if you know them well, you’ll already know most of what they know; your best information will come from ‘weak’ links, i.e. ‘mere’ acquaintances, because they are more likely to have new information for you;
- forgetting there’s a time and a place g. pouncing on a potential networking partner at a funeral is in poor taste.
The secret of star performers
Actually it is easier than you think.
First and only rule express an interest in others, you may discover something and someone new and interesting.
The second rule – for what it is worth don’t talk about yourself.
So, it is unlikely that someone is going to turn you away if you walk up, smile, and say, “I’m so-and-so. Nice to meet you.” They will probably be relieved that someone else started the conversation!
According to research networking is one of the nine key strategies that explain the success of ‘star’ performers -; executives who excel in the workplace. So just what do they know that we don’t?
Networking has three stages:
- An initial meeting (or handoff).
- Establishing rapport and finding common ground.
- Uncovering ways to help each other.
networkers par excellence, star performers:-
- work fast and don’t let contacts go cold. But there is a fine line between follow up and pestering;
- plan relationships – see that their network is in place well before it is needed and believe that access to it is a privilege, not a right;
- are selective – don’t network for the sake of networking – and view each potential network partner in terms of the value of the information they can impart;
- understand that knowledge is the currency of networking – so look to establish a particular expertise or skill that potential network partners would value; judge the effectiveness of their networking by the quality of information they receive. They compare the time and quality of information they impart with the information they receive; and then don’t waste their time with those people who give them little in return. They behave with impeccable manners, and adhere to rules of social etiquette, for example, they understand that the people they find most valuable for their network are most probably in demand by others; seldom go network recruiting without an old-fashioned reference or introduction.
- are immensely patient – have mastered the art of proactive, one-way giving with little immediate return in the early stages of their networking to build goodwill;
- move with the times – as their interests and assignments change, so the members of their network;
- do their homework – i.e. read up on the topic on which they want a network partner to offer advice; then, when they approach the partner, they do not waste their time covering the fundamentals;
- acknowledge their network partners – both privately and publicly – the contributions of anyone who has helped them through their networking;
- follow up a network call with a note of thanks – cements the relationship.
If you are in business at times you do need a thick skin, it’s not personal, but networking is a skill.
There are many organisations where you can build the confidence to network in an informal non-threatening arena with your peers. Historically women have been and felt at a disadvantage when networking at work.
It isn’t a waste of time, it is part of work, but you may need to ease into it.
Want some help?