Networking tends to be a low priority for many busy professionals, yet it essential to business success. Please understand, establish your network now, while you don’t need it, so it’s in place when you do.
I find that people want to help, not everyone only reaches out when they want something. Think of networking as a bank account. You must make deposits before you can make withdrawals. By helping others and establish yourself as a resource for them; these are your deposits, which you can withdraw from in the future.
Every interaction is an opportunity. Below are five ways to immediately cultivate your network.
A lot of people have trouble with networking because they are introverted, feel like they are using people and come off as selfish instead of helpful. Here are seven tips that will help you, even if you’re not a natural schmoozer.
1. Focus on the right people.
The secret to networking isn’t to attend a networking event and pass out as many business cards as you can. It’s not meeting as many people as possible in hopes something will work out. Instead, you need to concentrate on the people who you know can help will be able to make a difference in your career.
2. Create win/win situations.
It’s very important that both you and the other party gain equally when networking. If you benefit more than the other person, he or she will feel cheated and used. When that happens, you won’t be able to go back and built a long-term relationship.
3. Give before you receive.
In a networking situations, people expect you to ask them for help. If you turn that around and just offer some support, your networking partner will be grateful and want to return the favor.
4. Become a connector.
You don’t always have to gain something in a networking relationship. If you can introduce people who can benefit from one another, it’s just as effective. You can build a stronger rapport with multiple people and it makes you very good.
5. Remember to reconnect.
We’ve all had people who will contact us out of the blue after years of never touching base. When that happens, you typically don’t want to go out of your way for them because they haven’t put any effort into sustaining the relationship. After you choose the right people to network with, remember to stay in contact with them.
6. Use social networks.
LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are tools that you can use to connect in a personal way to different people in your industry. On LinkedIn for example, you can get introduced to new contacts through your current connections. You can also use LinkedIn as a professional database to find people who work in your professional at various companies you’re interested in.
Now that you’re ready to expand your network, use this four-point checklist to make the most out of your networking:
-Establish your purpose. Ask yourself: What do I want to get out of this interaction? Is there an opportunity to leverage another’s expertise or gain a different perspective? Perhaps you have an open position to fill and want to reach out beyond your own contacts. Or you need help navigating a complex matrix organizational structure. Think through the purpose of your meeting.
-Do your homework. Find out more about the other individual and their interests and mention something you have in common when you meet with them. This helps the conversation flow more easily and establishes a connection early on.
-Make it about the other person. Ask how you can help them or explore areas where you can be a resource. It’s a great way to establish the reciprocal nature of the relationship from the onset — it’s not just about what you need.
-Express genuine interest. Be curious and ask questions. Practice active listening and remain open and curious to what the other person has to say. Being engaged demonstrates you are truly interested in helping them.
Today take at least one step to start — and make the most out of — networking.
Jeannetta Collier, founder of Imaginary Glass Ceiling, provides leadership development coaching and workshops