Networking has always been part of business, and since Dale Carnegie informally enshrined it with his groundbreaking book How to Win Friends and Influence People as gospel in 1936, it’s here to stay as a fundamental part of every man’s career. From online profiles on sites like LinkedIn to work parties, events, and phone calls, experts say you’re always selling yourself even if you don’t mean to. In this article, we’re going to talk about how to increase your referral and business network in organic ways to further your career and hopefully make more money.
What Exactly is Networking and Why Do I Need To Do It?
Networking is the development of relationships for the purpose business or trade. It doesn’t always mean that you’re building a client list like you would in sales, but it does involve the development of a group of people both in and outside your industry that can assist you in your career growth through referrals, advice, mentoring, education and future opportunity. The term “networking” implies that cultivating your connections is a deliberate action, but you network through your everyday activities and work even if you aren’t trying. Having a deliberate networking strategy will help you gain control and advantage over your network in a positive way, and help you stave off negative influences over your reputation.
The goal of networking should never be directly about sales, as that is typically a turn off for most people. No one wants to spend every minute of their time with you listening to a pitch. Think of networking as developing a professional friendship that mutually gives and takes from the relationship. Whether it’s done online, in person or over the phone, there are many ways to help grow your network both in and out of the office, though it can be intimidating.
How to Make Networking Easier & Where to Start
Unless you are an extreme extrovert with a magnetic personality, networking can be tough because it forces most people outside of their social comfort zone. The fear of rejection, talking to new people, and walking the fine line between your agenda and the other person’s can be emotionally exhausting. The intentions are clear: networking is about personal gain, and that can be uncomfortable for many people in addition to the socialization that goes with it. The first step to making networking easier is to recognize that everyone does it, everyone needs it and that if you don’t take action, you won’t have control over your network. In this noisy day in age, expecting or hoping that people will recognize your talents will only lead to disappointment. You need to be your best advocate, and even though the concept of networking can feel insincere, there are ways to go about it that will make it both productive and beneficial in the long run.
So now that you are determined to take control over your network, the first step is to look at who you already know. Look around your office, scan through your contacts, and beef up your LinkedIn profile. Beyond cultivating a useful, connected group of individuals, determine what else you want to accomplish – find a new company to work for? Learn about another division in your company? See if contracting would work for you? Evaluate a career change or grad school? Use these criteria to pinpoint people who might help you answer these questions.
Once you have a list, contact these individuals and ask them to get coffee or lunch with you. Personalize your request with why you want to meet with them, and reference the particular reason that they would have that information. For example, you can say: “The purpose of my email is to reconnect with you over coffee sometime. I am in the process of researching new career opportunities, and with your 10+ years of experience at X company, I was hoping you could share some of your insights into the company.”
People love to talk about themselves, and they like to feel that their knowledge is valuable. Networking requests in this manner call on both these characteristics. During your meetings, ask lots of questions and show genuine interest in what they have to say. Ask them for their opinion on the company instead of just facts that you could have looked up. Eventually, they may ask you about your goals, which you should be able to articulate. When the meeting is complete, ask who else they think might be helpful for you to connect with. Thank them for their time, and make an effort to stay in touch with them to keep the contact warm.
Top Tips for Networking
Here are our top tips for organic networking:
- Be willing to give as much as you take. You may not think you have much to offer, but you do.
- Forget cold calling or walking up to strangers. Use your existing network as the base to expand from.
- Assume everyone you come in contact with is part of your network, regardless of if you cultivate the connection or not. This includes people you get along with and those you don’t.
- Start networking now, or at the very least before you need it. The idea is to have some relationships in place when you need help.
- Continue to approach networking as a regular activity, not just an as-needed one. Interesting opportunities may come along even when you are not looking for them.
- Focus on quality, not quantity. Use LinkedIn to look at your most valuable contacts and look at their connections. If you are already close with them, you can ask if they would be willing to make an introduction.
There are many ways networking can go wrong, and if you are not careful, they can even damage future efforts or poison a resource against you. Once I received a networking referral from a highly regarded former colleague, but the person he wanted me to help sent me an email addressed to someone else that explained she wanted to learn about my contacts in the industry. Not only was it an impersonal, wrong copy-and-paste job, but it was also a transparent grab for more connections. Don’t’ be this person! Here are a key few DON’Ts to avoid when networking.
- Obviously, don’t copy and paste email content. Instead, personalize it to that individual and explain specifically how you hope they can help you. Make it mostly about them.
- Don’t underestimate the negative side of networking. If you have people that you don’t work well with or get along with, they will be connected to your network in other ways. You may not be able to change their mind, but you can find other sources of support and connection to balance them out. Like an interview, if this person comes up, it’s good to have a simple acknowledgment that doesn’t bash the other person. “John and I don’t see eye to eye on how to manage our projects, but I respect his work ethic and commitment to getting the work done right,” or “Tony and I have very different personalities, but we always find a way to accomplish our mutual goals.”
- Don’t drop your network as soon as you have achieved your goal. You won’t be able to go back to the same people in the future if you don’t stay in touch periodically. If there isn’t an obvious reason to stay in touch, use a LinkedIn notification, such as a work anniversary or promotion, to say hello and congrats.
How to Network in a New Job
When you have the opportunity to start fresh in a new role, take advantage of the blank slate from the get go. Every relationship you make in a new role is networking, and it’s important to start a new job with that in mind. From the friendships forged with colleagues to the casual banter you’ll eventually have with vendors and clients, anyone you meet in business becomes a part of your network.
Some tips to network in a new role:
- Again, assume everyone you come in contact with is part of your network.
- Play the “new person” card for as long as you can, and use it to set meetings with others in your department to learn about their role and how you might work together.
- Be mindful of the reputation you develop from day 1. Think of your last workplace – were you known as a gossip? The quiet one? A brownnoser? A ladder climber that would trample others to get their way? Be mindful (and honest with yourself!) about your previous experiences and find ways to offset them in your new opportunity.
The 10 Step Networking Method
In this day and age, time is a valuable resource. With websites like LinkedIN, Twitter, and even Facebook, it’s become a way to network instantly with others, although it’s rarely as effective as in-person networking. For those who are new to your network, you may have had a positive first interaction but are at a loss as to what to do next, or more specifically, how to build trust with that individual.
For those who prefer to have a strategy over just letting things play out naturally, you might consider the ten-step promise system that many politicians employ. The goal of this ten-step system is to make ten small promises that are easy to keep. It might mean saying that you saw an article in the paper they might be interested in and following through with sending it to them. It could mean offering to bring coffee to the office the next day and remembering to do it. It may be something more and recalling that your client’s son loves baseball and giving away two tickets to them to go. The goal is once you’ve delivered on these ten smaller promises, the person you’re networking with will realize you’re a man of your word, and you’ll be on their list of reliable people. On top of that, when you show thoughtfulness and remember a birthday, how they like their coffee or that they enjoy their steak medium rare, you show them that you care enough about them which is typically enough to make them feel the same about you.
The key to employing this system effectively is to act genuinely. Most people are smart enough to feel out when they think someone is only interested in furthering their interests, which will render your promises hollow. If you want to build a real network, then you genuinely need to care and take an interest in the people you add to it.
The Networking Bank
The Networking Bank is another concept like the 10-Step System in which a value is placed on your networking interactions. In it, networking is reduced to its most basic form: getting and returning favors. It sounds harsh, but many see it that way because it no longer assumes that people want to help others and make new acquaintances other than for the reason of personal gain.
The networking bank assumes over the long term, you “deposit” and “withdraw” favors. It’s a tit-for-a-tat system. It’s a mental tally of what you’ve done for the people in your network and what they have done for you. This implies that people owe you something and vice versa.
Generosity plays a role in networking, and the balance in your “bank” can be very subjective. You may need to give more than you get, and you risk destroying a good connection by demanding a return favor from your networking bank rather than taking it when it’s offered. For that reason, we do not suggest you use this approach to networking.
Networking with Experts
Networking is kind of like planting a tree in the sense that you need to grow the relationships over time, and the bigger they grow the further they will reach. Finding and connecting with well-established professionals such as lawyers, accountants, professors, journalists, and politicians is bound to be useful, but it can be difficult to develop pure networking relationships with them if you are not already connected in some way.
Also, professionals such as lawyers and accountants bill on an hourly basis for their expertise and advice, so networking with them with the intent to get free legal or tax advice will only make you look cheap. In fact, most professionals in these fields will not offer you advice unless you are a paying client. If you have established relationships with a lawyer or an accountant, it is appropriate to ask if you should seek counsel about a certain legal or tax concern and either hire them or ask them for a referral to a person they trust. Beyond that, asking for any other information is asking them to work for free, which is not the basis of a productive networking relationship.
Other experts commonly work with clients and connections that don’t pay them directly (or at the very least, up front). Recruiters and realtors are two good examples. Fifty years ago most men started their career after college and stayed in the same job until retirement. Today, most men will change jobs at least a handful of times throughout their career. In fact, some experts argue that professionals are changing employers once every 2-5 years. Having a recruiter or headhunter on hand can be very valuable if you find yourself looking for a new job. Not only will they know who is hiring, but they’ll also have inside information on how to secure the interview and the job. If you’re not leaving, a recruiter can also be useful when you have to replace an employee. They can leave you to do your job while they find you top candidates for the position.
Where to Network
Networking can be done anywhere, in private, online or at events. If you are set on developing a network as quickly as possible and you don’t have any current connections in a desired area, it’s always a good idea to join various networking groups, societies, boards, and committees as well as gentlemen’s clubs, country clubs and other organized associations. It’s these paid networking organizations that will net you the largest number of qualified people you’ll want in your network, and since the entire purpose of many of these organizations is fraternizing and networking, you can rest assured that you’ll quickly develop a list of people who you can work with.
Networking is vital to all business. It’s something that can drastically improve your career and bring new opportunities which bring you a bigger paycheck. Most salespeople will argue that it’s their network that brings them the best customers and not the cold calls or beating the pavement. How do you network and what tips do you have?