It is my experience that effective business networking is about building a network of business contacts (it is up to you who they are) to help you achieve your goals (whatever they may be), following a process (as involved or as simple as you would like it to be). It is up to you and it is very personal. The key to networking is not your personality or style or how you choose to “work the room”, but in your skill and persistence in nurturing relationships that help you achieve your goals.
Lately, I have been doing a lot of reading on business networking and my attention has been grabbed by the current literature helping introverts improve their business networking skills. What has motivated me to “put pen to paper” today, so to speak, is the “Us and Them” that is prevalent throughout many of the comments that readers have contributed to articles and blogs. It reads like The Introverts vs The Gregarious. I am surprised because the focus of effective networking is in building relationships, not your style in meeting people.
One evening, I said to my introverted husband that I would like to offer advice to introverted networkers in this Blog, only to have him grumble “and what would you know about it?” Well, I know a lot about it, even though my character is as gregarious as his is introverted. Why? Because I have coached introverted engineers into becoming great networkers. Because I know that most of the work is done behind the scenes – not at networking events. Because effective networkers, the people that really achieve their goals, spend most of their time doing non-face-to-face networking activities. They spend their time building the relationships from the comfort of their desk chairs. Because meeting people is only part of the job.
To demonstrate the point, this is how I spend my networking time:
1. Meeting New and Old Contacts at Conferences and Selected Networking Events (10%)
Only 10% of my networking effort is in meeting new people at networking events. This effort is carefully planned at the beginning of the year and is closely linked with my business. The Networking Events that I attend are almost all related to conferences.
During the conferences, I use my gregarious side to full advantage and work very hard to meet almost everyone (Conference Strategies will be the subject of a separate article).
Finally, I am an active member of Women in Aerospace and every month I try to attend the networking dinner. Most of the women are Italian and it is usually lively.
2. Regularly Making New Contacts (5%)
Every month, I make one to three new contacts. These contacts are planned and where possible, I use my network to provide an introduction. The people selected are often, but not always, related to my current projects. This is also when I contact people that my network has recommended. One of the best ways to achieve this is to ask people in your network if they can recommend a contact in their network that will benefit you or ask them to make the introduction for you.
3. Adding Value to Existing Relationships (75%)
This category is about being altruistic, (definition: being unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others). Every month, I put effort into nurturing 3-4 different relationships that are unrelated to my current projects. These are people that I have already met but I want to know better. I try to be of value to them when I don’t need anything in return. I try to build an expectation that they will benefit from a contact from me, that it will be a positive experience.
There are a lot of things that can be done, for example, I can introduce someone to another contact that they should know, I can send them an interesting article, or I can pass on some information that would benefit them. This is all one-way towards my contacts. Add value but don’t ask for anything in return.
To be honest, the bulk of this time is spent keeping up to date on current and industry events and in finding ways to be useful to others. Very little of this time is spent in contact with people. I read websites, press releases, and industry journals. I look up my contacts on LinkedIn and try to know as much as possible about them. I think you can only add value if you know a lot about your contacts. (The side effect is that I am always up to date on industry knowledge, which is critical for my job).
Important note: from time-to-time, I do need to ask for assistance from my network and I find that people go out of their way to help me. (This will be the subject of another article.)
4. Reviving old Friendships and Contacts (10%)
Every month, I try to revive one or more lost connections. This is always interesting and usually starts a chain reaction of finding even more lost friends and colleagues.
- 15% of my networking effort is devoted to meeting new people
- 85% of my networking effort is devoted to strengthening and reviving existing relationships. Most of my networking time is spent in finding the best way to make a valuable contribution towards my network.
Networking effectively is hard work. The good news, however, is that most of it can be done from behind your computer. If you are adding value to relationships and being careful not to make a nuisance of yourself, most people will be pleased with your effort and will appreciate the attention.
Advice to both the introverts and the extroverts: Take the focus away from meeting people and focus on adding to your relationships. Be current, be altruistic, be proactive, and be relevant. Your hard work will be rewarded!
What are your experiences?
Thanks for reading,