Whenever you think of someone who’s a “consummate networker”, you conjure up an image of a person who has a busy social calendar, someone who’s popular at cocktail functions and knows how to work a room.
That might be one definition of good networker. Another definition is someone who is a “go-to person” whenever you need an important contact (whether it be the name of a doctor or accountant, or the name of a key player in your industry). They may not seem to be the most popular person at a cocktail function, and may even appear low-key and subdue, but they have an extensive list of solid social and business contacts built up over decades of interactions, referrals, and business exchanges.
I emphasized two phrases: solid contacts and decades. By “solid contacts”, I mean relationships with people who know you are, and know your reputation. They are people who might give (or accept) a referral, supply you with a contact, or accept an invitation for lunch or coffee.
I use the word “decades” because building up a network of meaningful contacts takes years. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly doesn’t happen because you went to a business reception and managed to collect 20 business cards.
We network because we don’t work and live in a silo. Due to human nature, we tend to trust doing business with people we know or who are referred to us. People often think of the need to network whenever their jobs are in jeopardy, or whenever they’re in search of new business. You hear them say, “I need to go out and start networking!”
But as mentioned above, building up a good network doesn’t happen overnight. Business professionals need a better understanding about what networking is, and isn’t. Here are a 10 rules worth remembering:
- A “one-off” activity, or something that you can “switch on” whenever you need new customers or job contacts. It’s something that you do on a continuous basis. It’s a mindset, a holistic way of thinking about people and relationships. (See Rule 6 below.)
- About creating a huge number contacts over a short time period. It’s about developing quality relationships over the span of your career. Take the time to find out more about the people in your business or social circle. If you think that two people in your circle might benefit from knowing one another, don’t hesitate to make introductions. That’s what a “good networker” does, and people will remember you for it.
- About attending business functions simply to find new customers or pitch for new business. This is the wrong approach. People don’t like being “sold to” at cocktail receptions, even if those events are industry-related.
- A one-way street, where the sole purpose is for you to capitalize on your contacts. You might hear a person telling a networking success story about how he got his new job through a contact he knew. What you don’t hear is that this person was either incredibly lucky, or relied on a contact whose relationship took years to cultivate. For networking to work, you must give, which means giving referrals, making introductions, and supplying helpful contacts to acquaintances.
- About relying solely on social media. Facebook and LinkedIn make it easy to build up contacts, but this isn’t the same as meeting someone in person. You need to be seen and heard, and you need to create an impression. Yes, social media has its uses − such as helping you stay in contact with friends and associates − but for you to build a relationship, it starts with meeting people in the flesh.
- About taking a keen interest in people and what they do. Some say that in a social setting, people don’t want to talk about work. Nonsense. Why should talking about work be limited to just industry cocktail functions? People like to talk about themselves and, generally, the work they do. Try to make connections on a personal and professional level.
- About carrying business cards everywhere you go. I can’t remember the number of times that people forget to carry their business cards when I ask for them for one. In Asia, people always carry their business cards, and aren’t shy about handing them to new acquaintances. In Hong Kong, where I worked for 13 years, people understand that networking doesn’t just happen at cocktail functions, it happens everywhere you go.
- About joining an organization, association or committee outside of work, where the mandate, activity and people interest you. Your aim should be to seek enjoyment and fulfillment from your participation. Contacts will come naturally, if you practice Rules 6 and 7.
- About attending a business reception or cocktail event at least once a month. There are some who aren’t crazy about attending networking functions. They might be put off by crowds, or feel hesitant talking to strangers. But it still gives you a chance to get out of the office, and meet people whom you otherwise wouldn’t talk to in your normal course of business. If you make it an objective to meet at least one or two interesting people, and limit yourself to staying an hour, then you might find yourself enjoying these events. If there’s an open bar, even better!
- About staying in touch. If someone has made an impression on you, drop her an email to say “Hello”. This helps solidifies your bond, and even if you don’t meet up again for the foreseeable future, your email will help her remember you. Every so often, reach out to acquaintances who normally aren’t part of your “inner circle,” and go out for lunch or coffee. Maintain your presence out there, no matter how busy you might be.
- Building up a strong network is really a life-long pursuit and work-in-progress. A strong network is a reflection of your reputation and what you mean to others in your social and professional circle. The more you nurture and grow those relationships, the stronger your network.
See you at the next business chamber cocktail!
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