It’s January, and the gyms are all full of people who made New Year’s Resolutions to get fit. Business and professional association meetings are also packed with people who made resolutions to start networking more, even if they’re not exactly sure what that means.
Business cards, we know it involves exchanging business cards (though we often don’t do anything with them once we have them). And going to events. So we go to an event, and stand about feeling awkward because we don’t know anyone, or find the one person we do know and spend the whole time with them. But after doing the event thing a couple of times, and not seeing any benefit, like the January crowd at the gym, we lose interest in networking.
But just as getting and staying fit requires a change in lifestyle, so building a powerful network is about changing the way you view networking. Here are a few thoughts for getting started:
- Start with your existing network. Not to discourage anyone from attending a networking event, but you probably already know plenty of people that you haven’t taken the time to develop into solid contacts, haven’t build a real relationship with. Have you gotten to know them well enough to know how you can help them, who you can introduce them to, what resources they might need? Try going through those old business cards and doing some of the follow-up you never got around to. Get in touch with the people you haven’t talked to or seen in months, just to catch up.
- Be a matchmaker. When you meet someone new (or are catching up with and old contact), always be thinking who else in your network they should get to know. Put people together. Think of your network not as a wheel with you at the hub and spokes linking you to individual contacts, but an intricate web of connections that cross-connect and all link back to you.
- Look for opportunities to benefit your network. Even though I’m not in the market for a job, I always cultivate relationships with recruiters I meet. They know I have an extensive network of communication professionals, and that I’ll always take the time to help them find good candidates. People in my network benefit by hearing about great opportunities. I benefit because over the years I’ve helped dozens of my friends and contacts get jobs (or at least get in the door, they did the rest). Those are the kinds of favours that come back to you.
- Become known as a resource-finder. I love it when people come to me with the question that begins “Do you know anyone who….” Need a lawyer, dentist, graphic designer, freelance writer? I probably either know one or know someone who knows someone, and by providing the referral, I’m strengthening my network. By the way, having a vast network of resources can be incredibly valuable to your employer, too, because it makes you a miracle worker, able to accomplish things others can’t. Become known as the go-to person to find any resource.
If you’re a networking newbie, there are plenty of techniques and skills you can use to help you feel more comfortable and be more organized with your networking (if you’re interested, you can download my Power Networking Tips here), but the real power of your network comes from making a long-term investment in helping other people succeed. Remember, the most powerful network is the one that owes you favours.