Make no mistake, personal networks are a powerful thing. They are a source of inspiration and learning. Will provide support through the good times and the bad. Keep you innovative and provide a sounding board for key decisions. Help you get things done when you are in a hurry or budgets are tight. Make your business grow. A great network can be the difference between success and failure.
So why do people look at networking with such disdain? Why when you think of networking in your head, is the image conjured up one of awkward people in suits stood around poser tables pretending to look busy? Why is it way down people's priority lists when time planning? Networking is not a nice to have, its a MUST have in any ambitious persons diary.
The hyper connected world we live in makes it easier than ever before to maintain your network, but how do you build one in the first place? Successful networking is a combination of mindset and skill. Both of which can be worked on. People who have resigned themselves to the fact that they will never be good networkers, and that it is a mystical art only for extroverts need a mindset shift.
Networking is not an innate talent. This problem is a fixed mindset. If you don't see it as a skill, then you wont invest in it and get better. A growth mindset will work harder to get better at it, and then see far better results. A fixed mindset will see it as a waste of time, a growth mindset will get stronger results and continue the cycle of improvement and time spent doing it.
How do you get better at it? This is a question I have been asked regularly recently so I thought I would try and distill down some tips. The core skills you can think about and practice. Once you have had your mindset shift that it....
1. Stop thinking "what's in it for me" and start thinking "how can I help".
This is SO important. Desperation when networking stands out. People only interested in selling their wares, getting a job or looking for justification for their event ticket price will get nowhere. At its best, networking is people enjoying people and sharing experiences and interests. Listen to people, understand how you might be able to help them and build genuine relationships. Then the rest will come.
2. Prepare you.
Entering a room full of strangers can be intimidating and in my experience seems to be the biggest obstacle for people, especially those with a more introvert mindset. So prepare. Everyone has something interesting to talk about and something to give. Just know what these things are. Be clear on your talents, skill sets and connections you can bring to the table. Also prepare a short and interesting dialogue on what your business and why you enjoy it. You will get asked 'what do you do' and if you can answer it with positivity it makes it far more engaging for the person who answered the question. A positive happy person is far more likely to build rapport quickly.
3. Know the crowd.
It can give you an advantage before you've even started by knowing who is going to be there. If it is a small event you can research individuals. Their careers, passions and backgrounds enabling you to map out how you may be able to connect and understand how you can help people now or in the future. If it is a large event try to get a copy of the guest list. Then you can be targeted about who you want to meet and ensure you can make the most of out it. However, never dismiss anyone as unimportant. It is fine to have a couple of targets, but always be warm and welcoming to everyone. You never know who you might be talking to and who their network might be.
4. Get Inconvenient.
In my experience, pockets of people form at networking events of like-minded people who find it easy to talk to each other, or who have had some type of contact before. This is convenient and lazy networking. It will result in homogeneous networks that are neither useful or productive. Networks should provide the breath and diversity of inputs that reflects the world around us. Be deliberate with your networking and push yourself out of your comfort zone and in to those inconvenient interactions.
5. Follow Up.
Now you have put all this effort in to making new connections, follow up and do it promptly. Otherwise all your hard work will be wasted. If you have offered to help some one with something, make sure you do it.
In an increasingly digital world, where messaging is now the overwhelmingly popular method of communication, take a step in to the physical world every now and then. Your life will be all the richer for it.