Tuesday, 13 August 2013

5 tips to make you a better networker

Young professionals, entrepreneurs and really anyone looking to make it in the business world is told that networking is essential.  Your network will be one of the most valuable things that you possess your whole career and your ability to call on your network is a great asset in your back pocket.

Some industries, especially professional services industries, push this more than others - after all, it is in their interests that you have a good network that you can rely and call on when you are trying to create revenue for the firm.

However, as all young professionals know...this is not as easy as it seems...

Networking never seems to go the books suggest it should go.  You are told to find people who are going to help you up in your career and to find mentors and other people who you can suck knowledge from and learn from...however they never say HOW to do this.

Anyone who has attended young professionals events, whether organised by organisations to help their junior staff mingle or by special young professionals groups knows how incredibly fake these types of events are.  You end up chatting superficially to a few people and exchange business cards with a few people and then you totally forget who you spoke to and the business cards never get used.

However the big dilemma is that you can't ignore this aspect of business altogether.  As much as you may like to think otherwise, your ability to advance in the business world is determined not only by your abilities, skill and intelligence but also by your interpersonal skills and your ability to leverage relationships.

Networking is not impossible and does not need to be tedious...

Although the books most of us read only tell you to network and what types of people to find...they rarely tell you how to go about doing this.  I am not an expert on this but I have included a few tips below to help make the process easier and hopefully less tedious.

  • Tip 1: Make friends...not contacts
    • You never keep in touch with someone who is just a contact...and more importantly you don't really help someone out if you think they only want to know you because you may be useful to them
    • The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to try and make friends with those people who you actually want to network with
    • You don't have to be the best of buddies but if you can grab a drink together and shoot the breeze over something not work related then this is one of the best things you can do
  • Tip 2: Be genuine
    • This relates to the making friends point.  Don't be friends with someone just because they can help...this makes life tedious and it's also super easy to see through
    • Become friends because you genuinely like the person
    • Also...if you really want someone in your network and they are just a jerk and you can't get along...it's probably worth just letting that networking opportunity slide - you're not going to want to help them and probably they wont want to help you
  • Tip 3: It's a lot easier to make friends / network with those with whom you have a common contact
    • The reason networking events seem so fake is that everyone knows why they are there
    • If you have a friend in common with a person you are trying to network with then this makes life so much more enjoyable - you have a reason for talking other than the common interest
    • You don't have to look very far to expand your network - often your own friends will have friends who are very interesting
  • Tip 4: If you meet someone interesting and you get along - suggest a catch up
    • Friendships and networks are never developed after one meeting or even 2 or 3 meetings
    • To develop your network (as with a friendship circle) you have to work at it
    • Catch up with a person 4 or 5 times for coffee and guess what - you have another person in your network.  If you establish a friendship...it's no longer work or effort
  • Tip 5: Give before you receive
    • Too often with networking people are only thinking what they need or what they want to get out of a contact not what they can give
    • If you are the one who offers something first, even if it's advice on how to get a job in the industry you are working in to their partner this is often appreciated
    • When you then ask for something you seem less like a moocher
Because networking is so important to careers...people forget what the underlying foundation of networks are

If you think that my 'make friends - not network' strategy to networking is too much work or worse, unlikely to work then think of who you would most like to help out if they asked for it...a person you barely know or a person who you've established a relationship with.

Business is all about relationships and building these relationships do not need to be tedious.  Note that not all attempts to build friendships or networks will always work and these people may or may not become close friends.  I have people who I catch up with for a coffee once ever 3 or 4 months but they are still part of the network I can draw on.

Give it a go and let me know how it works out.  At the very least you may be expanding your friendship circle.

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