How Big is Your Network?
I’d like to begin with a brief brag. I am pleased to announce that I have more than one thousand friends. I can prove it. Just look at my accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Foursquare, Instagram, and all the other social media outlets available.
Okay, so one thousand “friends” probably isn’t a lot compared to other people’s networks, but it feels like a lot to me. Especially since, in reality, I don’t know most of them. But I’m sure they’re all wonderful people.
What is Networking?
For the longest time I had this rule that I would not “accept” or “friend” anyone I did not have some human contact with on at least one occasion. But I recently broke my own rule. I succumbed to the ever mounting pressure of the daily stream of online connection requests.
So if you happened to notice the day when I suddenly became very popular on LinkedIn now you know why. I accepted all those requests that had piled up for years.
And this got me thinking. Is this networking? Or is there more to it?
What is networking, why do we do it and how?
Here’s How to Network
If I’m to be honest, once upon at time I didn’t really get networking. I knew it had something to do with connecting to people and trying to get stuff. But I didn’t really understand the steps involved. Until recently, when I was thrown into the unfamiliar waters of networking, forced to navigate my way until I could achieve a goal that could only be gained through networking.
Looking back on my experience I see what worked. The result is a list of 5 rules for making networking work.
Rule #1 Create a Goal
To make networking worthwhile it helps if you know what you’re after. Zig Ziglar, American author, salesman and motivational speaker, famously said,
“If you aim at nothing you’ll hit it every time.”
That’s easy. Know what else is easy? Setting a goal.
With no goal you may find yourself at an event flailing, lost and frustrated, asking yourself, “why am I here?”
A goal gives you a focus for any social or business engagement. It guides what event you attend, who you’ll talk to and what you’ll talk about. Set a goal before you leave the house.
A goal can be long-term, like getting a new job or new clients, or it can be short-term, like “at this event I’ll exchange business cards with three new contacts” or “I’ll find someone who knows about xyz and ask their advice.”
My long-term goal was to secure an adjunct teaching position to compliment my day job as an HR professional. There was one problem. A quick look at the open positions on the internet reflected that teaching positions simply weren’t available.
A colleague wise on the subject told me that the openings may not always be posted and that sometimes you just have to talk to the right people. You know what that means. I had to network.
I had my goal. And I needed to network. Now what?
Rule #2 Open Doors
For example, I started volunteering with local business schools, helping students with writing elevator speeches and practicing their interviewing skills. Ultimately, this did two things for me.
- It allowed me to give back in a way that I felt good about
- It put me in the same physical space with university people who would later offer advice and ideas on how to pursue a teaching gig
As you can you see from my example, a networking event isn’t always obvious. I define a networking event as “any event where two or more people share space.” They can be less obvious like my volunteering example or more obvious like an event that is advertised for just that purpose.
It is at these formal networking events where I believe many people struggle, especially those who don’t enjoy or consider themselves good at schmoozing. Like me.
The reality is that in order to make things happen we need to push ourselves into these situations, comfortable or not. Neale Donald Walsch, an American author, said,
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”
We should take a cue from Mr. Walsch and accept that some interactions aren’t comfortable, but we need to do them anyway.
For each of these events, remember Rule #1: Create a Goal. Enter these events with your long-term goal in mind and set mini-goals to get you through the event. Also try these:
Three more tips to make a networking event workable:
- Take a buddy. Someone who is outgoing and has the ability to get conversations started and/or can connect you with people they already know. Just don’t let the friend become a crutch.
- Ask questions. One of the best ways to get a conversation started and keep it going is to be curious. Show genuine interest in others and really listen to what they say. Good questions to ask, among others, are “what do you think about the event,” “what are you working on”, “what do you do for fun”, “that’s interesting, can you tell me more/elaborate further?” Of course, be careful you don’t overdo it and become the “creepy question guy.” Have something to offer the conversation and you should be fine.
- Volunteer. It may be a pure networking event, but you can still contribute. Reach out to the organizers and offer a helping hand. If you’re like me, it helps to have something to do. But keep it light. Remember you’re offering to help, not to become the help.
The more you put yourself out there and make meaningful connections the greater your chances of something good happening. With that said, it is best to maintain realistic expectations. Because not every event you attend will bare fruit, and that is perfectly okay.
On the flip side, you may be surprised what an event can yield for you by way of information, leads, contacts, or other opportunities you never expected.
That happened to me, and I’ll share more in Part II. Stay tuned for my next post where I will share rules three and four.
Until then, how do you network? Share your thoughts.
More thoughts on networking from around the web:
- 21 Powerful LinkedIn Lessons From my First 500 Contacts (business2community.com)
- 16 networking mistakes that can derail your career (womeninpr.wordpress.com)
- How to Create Meaningful Connections at Networking Events (proformablog.com)
- Master Your ‘Mingle-Ability’: 5 Creative Ways to Network (entrepreneur.com)