11 May Networking Basics
Only two of the people I have coached over my career have expressed wild enthusiasm for networking – and they were both professional salespeople. Most people seem to believe that networking is innate – either you are good at it or you are not good at it. And if you are in the unfortunate position of not being good at it, then your career is never going to go anywhere.
Let’s start by getting rid of that idea. While you may never thoroughly enjoy networking, the concepts are simple to learn, and the benefits are tremendous.
Done well, networking is simply an exchange of information or assistance between people who respect one another. The most effective way to get someone interested in you and what you have to offer, is to be interested in them and what they have to offer, and to show that you respect and appreciate their time. In other words, listen closely, ask questions, and reciprocate when possible.
With Whom Should You Network?
When people mention networking, they invariably state that they hate cold calling and don’t want to do it. Fine. Don’t do it. Other than people in a few select industries, most of you should never have to do this. In addition to being painful, cold calling is usually not particularly effective.
￼￼￼You already have a pre-existing network, consisting of your friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, clients, and members of any personal, professional, or political organizations of which you are a member. Start with them.
What are the Nuts and Bolts of Networking?
The suggestions offered here relate to face-to-face networking, as opposed to on-line networking (Linked In, Facebook, etc.). Social networking sites can be excellent sources of information, but ultimately you are going to have to contact and talk to a real person. So we might as well start there.
As I mentioned, avoid cold calls. If there is someone you would like to meet, research the person and their organization, and then ask a mutual friend or colleague to make an introduction.
When you call someone for the first time, identify yourself immediately and explain precisely how you got his or her name and why you are calling. Many people prefer to introduce themselves by e-mail first and then follow up with a phone call. Either way is fine. (Whatever you do, don’t start by saying, “How are you?” before introducing yourself. You’re likely to be confused with a telemarketer.)
After introducing yourself, ask whether this is a good time to talk. If it’s not, suggest another time and take the lead on offering to call them back. This way you avoid getting stuck in the uncomfortable position of waiting and waiting for them to call you, and then feeling like you’re nagging if you call again.
If someone is not interested in talking, don’t worry about it. There are always others who will be.
When possible, meet in person because you are more likely to be remembered. And if you are meeting in person, be on time. It is amazing how many people overlook this one obvious suggestion. It is also amazing how irritated tardiness makes others.
If you take only one thing away from this newsletter, take this — when you do connect with someone, ask him or her about his or her job, interests, etc. before you talk about yourself.
With any luck, while talking to this person you have figured out a way that you can help them, too. So follow up afterwards with whatever that may be. And do your best to stay in touch.
Since many people find networking stressful, they often procrastinate. Try to make one networking-related call each morning. If the call is unsuccessful, at least you’re done for the day. If the call is successful, then you may be energized to make more calls.
If you have time to be actively involved in a group, then join professional organizations related to your areas of interest. However, if you only have time to attend an occasional meeting, you are unlikely to develop much of a network. While it will have its ups and downs, networking is a social activity that is often actually enjoyable. It can be a great opportunity to learn and to meet interesting people with similar interests.
In addition to management consulting, conflict resolution, and executive coaching, I offer tailored programs on a variety of related topics, including how to delegate, communicate more effectively, deal with difficult people, manage conflict in the workplace, facilitate meetings, manage your career, and network.
Please let me know if there are other topics in which you are interested. If I don’t already have a program on that topic, I am happy to develop one that meets your needs.