Originally published on December 21, 2016
This is the first in four-part Blog series on Cultivating Your Professional Network
Networking: What is it?
Networking is defined as a socioeconomic business activity through which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities. A business network is a type of business social network whose reason for existing is business networking activity. Networking is considered to be a more cost-effective method of generating new business than either advertising or public relations efforts.
Business networking is a low-cost activity that involves more personal commitment than company money or resources.
Networking is something that is relatively simple to do and can occur in a variety of venues and formats with the professionals or consumers of choice—or necessity. You can network on the train, standing in a line, riding in an elevator…virtually anywhere! The key is simple: Start the conversation, because networking is about meeting people and expanding who—and what—you know.
Effective networking requires an effective plan of action. What do you want from the networking experience? Based on your desires/needs, where is the best place to look for the right people? How do you find the right people? Is there something in it for them, or just for me? How do I execute the networking plan?
As this volume progresses, you will find key points that drive networking in any situation—C2B, B2C, and B2B—including:
Searching for and examining potential networking contacts on LinkedIn
Having a current and relevant personal 30-second elevator pitchready that will catch peoples’ attention
Having business cards (or introductory cards if you are a career-seeker) to hand to contacts—as well as ensuring you harvest their contact information (business card is preferable)
Follow up with contacts after your initial meeting.
Have a system for organizing and accessing contact information, whether electronic (such as the ABBYY card reader app) or manual (such as a card file).
Why Should You Network?
Once upon a time, there was an adage that said, “It’s all about what you know.” Later, as we crossed into the new millennium, the new adage was, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Fast-forward to today and we find the adage has again evolved—“It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.”
People do business with people they know, like and trust. Companies don’t make decisions, people do. Your professional network can open doors for you that otherwise could not be opened. For better or for worse, it’s not just what you know or are capable of doing, it’s who you know, that’s important for career advancement and business development. You can also learn a tremendous amount from people in your network who have experience and expertise. (Fishbein, n.d.)
Networking is the key ingredient to capture the essence of today’s environment—who knows you. To that end, the following five reasons why networking is essential are offered (Dickson, 2015):
By networking regularly and meeting new people you will begin to boost your confidence. Your growth—personal and professional—depends on communication skills. Play to your strengths (skills and expertise) and you will find that connecting with new professionals is a rewarding experience.
Networking is not just for business! As you gain confidence in networking, and as you expand your network, you will find some of those connections becoming relationships beyond the purely business sense. Stay in contact, be of mutual support, and your network will be there to help you achieve your goals.
Networking is the most effective—and cost-effective—way to explore careers, products and services, and potential business relationships. It may not be the person with whom you connect that makes the difference—it may be the person to whom your connection may introduce or recommend you…
Skill Improvement. To effectively network, you need to develop some essential skills. Networking requires competency in listening, problem-solving, confidence, negotiations, engagement, empathy, and so on. Networking helps build those skills, as well as honing communications skills and how to express better your strengths, weaknesses, and goals.
Shared Knowledge. When networking, don’t limit yourself to a single genre, industry, or field. People with whom you network will offer a variety of perspectives and wisdom based on their disparate backgrounds and experiences. Learning new perspectives will expand your knowledge—and the knowledge of those with whom you share information and perspective.
According to Fishbein (n.d.), networking is both a science and an art, requiring study of books and resources, practicing, and experimenting with different techniques to determine what works best for you—as a professional and within your industry. Based on these principles, the following 10 business networking tips can help you grow your network, regardless of industry.
Be helpful. By helping others in your network—or your colleagues—get stronger, they may be able to help you in the future and, in the spirit of reciprocity, may be motivated better to return the favor. To accomplish this, take the time to share your ideas and expertise, information important to your network or group, and take the opportunity to drive business toward people in your network—a case in which you both profit, by gaining business and by strengthening the network relationship.
Build your reputation. Value begets value. In professional business relationships, being seen as talented, helpful, and valuable make you a desired commodity. Build your reputation through accomplishments and actions, sharing and learning through media and personal interactions.
Make yourself visible. If nobody knows it happened, it didn’t happen. Plain and simple, right? This is where understanding how to use properly social media, blogging, and social networking pays off.
Get up, get out, get going! Get outside your “comfort zone” and seek out new contacts and groups. Many resources exist for this, such as networking meetups, conferences and events, attending classes, seminars, and workshops, and using media like LinkedIn to associate with professional groups and get introduced to other professionals.
Have Intent. Find where the people you want to meet hang out both online and offline and get there. Interact, build rapport, share substantive content, and lead interesting conversations. See who else spends time with the people you need to meet and connect with them.
Think Long-Term. Connections may open doors, but building relationships close deals. Networking is not just about exchanging business cards and connecting on LinkedIn—the key is using it to build long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. Relationship cultivating will take time—be patient, stay engaged.
Get Rejected! When you push yourself, in any area of life, you will inevitably face setbacks. In networking, you will face a lot of rejection. People will ignore your calls and email. They will decline meeting invites, and requests for introductions. Trying and failing is much better than not trying at all. At least when you try you have a chance to succeed. Learn from your rejections and grow stronger for when it happens again.
Listening is one of your greatest tools in networking and business. People appreciate when you take a genuine interest in what they have to say. You get to learn about peoples’ challenges and know them better, which can enable the shift from connections to relationships. Ask insightful questions, show genuine interest, and express curiosity.
Ask questions. If you don’t ask, the answer is always NO! You may be surprised at how often the questions you ask yield positive results. Ask for introductions. Ask people you want to meet to get together with you. Ask for advice.
Follow Up. A good reputation is a foundational principle for growing an effective network. Build a reputation as someone who delivers on their promises and is persistent. Two simple words to help protect and build a reputation — Follow up! Do what you promised to do for others.
With experience, you can turn networking into an avenue to increase your net worth as a businessperson by being able to leverage the network for business intelligence (BI), products and services, partnerships, employment and hiring opportunities, and much more.
Next week will be part two in the Blog series: The Networking Triad – C2B, B2C, B2B
Dickson, S. (2015). Top 5 reasons why you should be networking. Retrieved from http://www.business2community.com/strategy/top-5-reasons-why-you-should-be-networking-01308912#hpLPZwjBMMx7b2y6.97
Fishbein, M. (n.d.). 10 business networking tips: Grow your professional network. Lifehack. Retrieved October 25, 2015, from http://www.lifehack.org/articles/work/10-business-networking-tips-grow-your-professional-network.html