The Networking Recipe For Success
As I approached the park I could see the sun beaming between the trees, there were patches of grass and the dirt looked clay-like. The lot was full and the air was smoky from the dust which meant most of the cars had just parked. I was attending my first networking event at a local chamber mixer, and to be honest I was terrified. My wing-woman was my girlfriend. She lit up every room she walked into and her personality was magnetic, if you ask me we were quite the opposites. People loved talking to her, and for the next 60 minutes I was going to follow her lead.
I handed her a glass of wine as she introduced me to a few people. In one pocket was my trusted BlackBerry and in the other a stack of crisp business cards. I wasn’t sure how many I needed so I made sure to bring extra. During that hour I met small business owners, attorneys, and other professionals I would have never met if it wasn’t for this event. Initially I kept close to my girlfriend like a puppy following his owner, but after observing her approach I felt more comfortable with every interaction.
The sun was setting as we walked back to the car; I was confused initially and felt my girlfriend wanted to throw me to the lions, and then she explained the lesson. “It’s not about attending one event. You have to come regularly so people know your name and they’ll think of you when there’s a need for your business.” I nodded my head to convey that I understood.
This lesson was invaluable but I wanted to learn the secrets of networking. I decided to reach out to my friends and networking experts Ron Nash and Jenna Lynch, who met 15 years ago through, you guessed it, networking! Both work together on different projects but if I had to sum up what they do, they help people “connect.” Ron has worked with thousands of individuals and organizations to help them leverage LinkedIn as a business and career networking tool, including the likes of Deepak Chopra, Cesar Milan, and Eckhart Tolle. He’s the author of Jump Start Your Career with LinkedIn and founder of Jump Start Revolution, where job seekers and businesses learn how to incorporate his strategies through his online courses. Jenna is a seasoned Human Resources Executive and a Consultant who coaches and trains individuals and corporations in the areas of leadership development, talent management, and personal and internal branding.
It was my mistake to attend the networking event for the purpose of making a sale, or for my own personal gain. Ron and Jenna explain that networking effectively is like creating the perfect cocktail.You need the right ingredients, and you need the right amount of each ingredient. Ron explains, “Networking is the sharing of information and building of relationships, the best networkers are “givers” because they genuinely want to help others. Most individuals are “takers” and dread trying to “fit in” because their premise is one of selfish gain.”
Like my nerve-wrecking experience, networking has a negative connotation. Ron says, “If we take the fear out of the exercise we can mutually reap the rewards.” We often have heightened expectations, like when a friend suggests a movie they rave about, and when the outcome isn’t what we expected we feel let down. He explains, “Next time you’re networking, making a new friend should be your main intent,” which is the first ingredient in the networking recipe. It sounds so simplistic, but if you don’t succeed it’s not a big deal and you can move onto making another friend.
Jenna explains the second ingredient, “It’s important to use networking as a means of an intelligent activity that produces results, versus an activity that causes distraction.” I’ve personally struggled where I’ve felt tethered to my iPhone constantly checking social media during my few minutes of downtime. Ron’s remedy tomake time for networking is that he schedules specific times of the day where he reads, responds, and posts new content. He also uses apps to help manage some of this. The new LinkedIn app, Connected, provides relevant updates about the people you know. It lets you engage with them in an easy way to foster and strengthen your relationships.
Jenna explains that the beauty of modern technology is that people can be social in any way that is most comfortable to them, whether it be online or at an event. She suggests that if you’re attending an event you should target individuals to meet in advance. For example, you can send them a message with something along the lines of:
“I noticed you completed the XYZ program at your company and were very successful. I would love to connect at the upcoming XYZ conference and swap ideas if you’ll be there?”
Network with purpose and put thought into who you’d like to meet because it will accelerate the conversation rather than having the traditional “What do you do?” type of dialogue. Most importantly (and the third ingredient), add the person on LinkedIn or exchange information because expanding your network is about having open lines of future communication. Six months from now, an article or an event may trigger a reason to reach back out to that person.
I took Ron and Jenna’s networking recipe and applied it over the next few days. To summarize:
– Being a Giver and making a new friend you should be your main intent
– Use networking as a means of activity to produce a result
– Keep open lines of future communication
This exercise confirmed that I’m an introvert, but with this recipe I felt more comfortable engaging with people. Whether I was in the gym or coffee shops, I learned that not every person I engaged with would be part of my network. The key was having regular intent to make new friends, which will expand my network exponentially (and that intent alone makes it easier). I realized networking isn’t just about attending formalized events, we can network all around us to see how we can add value to the lives of others.
The online world has taken out the human element out of being “social” because in-person communication is less frequent. As Ron puts it, “Humans still buy from humans.” Making human connections are essential to forge real relationships. Ron and Jenna have encouraged me that we can make becoming a lifestyle networkerpart of who we are – our personal brand. If we change the way we think about networking; we can become an indispensable resource to those around us and our network will give back to us tenfold.