It’s a word that causes some people to feel “meh”. Whether you want to score a new job, check out potential clients, or meet someone who can help you out in the future, “networking” seems pretty gross.
But it’s not. At its core, networking is about building relationships with trust and value. The goal is not to get your fill of business cards destined for the waste bin. (Think about that. It’s just so wasteful and boring.) The goal is to form relationships that actually mean something.
Make sure your network is doing well, and you will too. Investing in those around you will bring you more success than collecting all those contact details of people you probably won’t meet ever again. To update that old adage: it’s not about who you know, but how well you know them.
Step 1: Stop talking. Start listening
The next time you interact with someone one-on-one, check your personal agenda at the door and give them your full and undivided attention. When you listen to somebody – really listen – you are telling them that what they have to say is important.
This is powerful – and rare. We don’t do enough listening; so learn how to listen and listen. Be genuine in your interest, attentive in your approach, and be present. Ask people about themselves and their projects; wait for them to pause before you ask any questions.
The concept here is to be interested, rather than interesting. That will come later. For now, practice the art of listening.
Step 2: Get that second date — and follow-up
Once you’ve connected with someone, follow-up. Think of networking events and introductions as a jumping-off point to meet like-minded people. Now it’s your turn to take it to the next level. If it suits, arrange to meet them again in-person.
Offer your help and share your knowledge. Share what you’ve been doing and what you’ve achieved. Recommend relevant articles and videos that are informative and entertaining. Balance the frequency depending on your relationship with the person. You definitely don’t want to spam new connections and overwhelm them. At the same time, you don’t want them to forget you.
Tip: If you meet someone at an event, establish a mail thread right away. This cuts out business cards entirely, and gives you an in to their inbox. Send something short and personal with an indication that you’d like to meet them again, like: “Hey, it was great to meet you and hear about your project. P.S. Best of luck with the launch!”
Step 3: Cultivate meaningful relationships
Think of guanxi and its tenet on deepening relationships. The idea of effective networking is to see yourself holistically in coordination with others around you.
Focus on how you can help others, not how they can help you. Position yourself as someone who can solve problems, open doors, and don’t expect anything in return – except for the hope that it will cement your reputation as a trustworthy person.
Whether they take your help or not, people will be appreciative; they’ll remember you and they’ll be more likely to help you in the future. Strive to be a valuable hub in the middle of an even more valuable network.
Effective networking is about building trust and, like all good things, that takes time. But it’s worth it.
At the end of the day, people are more likely to do business with people they know, like, and trust. Your connection will get you a foot in the door; your relationship will net you commitment.
If you want to apply this philosophy to your own networking habits, sign up to this free, short, and actionable e-mail course by serial entrepreneur and online media exec, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten.