How many of you see networking in the title and cringe just a little bit? Does going to a conference and walking up to folks at the cocktail reception make you want to flee the scene? Does arranging a coffee and conversation make you sweat a bit? I understand—I really do!
Most of you that know me might find this hard to imagine. I can hear you saying, “Jeff, you just won the RBTC Regional Connector Award, how could networking ever be hard for you?!” There are plenty of times that I go to a conference or social event and wonder why am I doing this? I will admit that I love people and I have a general curiosity about what people find interesting. However, there are also times that I find it boring and just want to go back home or my hotel room.
Wow, great start Jeff! Really inspiring me so far! Okay, so why does networking matter? I have had several friends and clients that have recently been laid off from their jobs. They worked so hard and were so committed to their organizations that they never took time to network. All of sudden they need to look for new jobs and they are lost. I also have some clients that are in need of new customers but they spend so much time inwardly focused on their own operations that they do not know how to connect outside of their organization to gain new insights, innovations and potentially new customers. Thus, reasons to network include:
1. Finding mentors and thinking partners to help you grow in your career
2. Benchmarking with peers to learn about best practices
3. Connecting with others to hear about possible new job opportunities
4. Bouncing product ideas off others to see if you have a good idea
5. Challenging your thinking
6. Sanity check on what you are seeing in your organization
7. Potentially finding new talent for your organization
8. Developing acquaintances for a future need (like new jobs or clients)
If the benefits are so great, then why do we spend so little time networking? Here are a few reasons I hear:
1. I am so busy, I do not have time
2. It makes me nervous
3. I am not very good at small talk
4. I do not have anything to offer the other person (or the other person is so important, they would never meet with me)
5. I am too shy, quiet, boring, scared, etc.
6. I do not know how to lead a good conversation
Okay, the time one is a choice. We are all busy and we all like to tell everyone that we are busy. Some the of busiest people I know, go out of their way to invest in networking at least weekly if not daily. They see the benefits and make it a priority. The rest of the reasons, I think can be overcome by learning how to be a good networker.
Here are some of my ideas and shared some resources at the end of the blog.
1. Find someone who is good at networking and ask them to mentor you
2. Identify 3-5 people that you find interesting—ask one of them to have coffee with you
3. Bring interesting questions to the conversation; ask the other person about the reasons for their success; leave them with an interesting article to help them grow; ask them about 1-2 other people they admire or appreciate
4. At a conference, go to the networking event early. Set a goal of x # of people that you want to talk to. Be curious about the other person’s interest, passions and why they do what they do. If you enjoyed the conversation, ask for a business card and follow-up with an email suggesting a phone call or coffee another time.
5. Introduce someone you respect to another person you respect so they can both learn.
6. Celebrate when you have tried one of these things. Ex. I go for a run or get a Slurpee.
Here is the link with ideas on how to get better at networking. In the meantime, good luck building your list of influencers, potential clients or future hires. Put some time on the calendar and go do it. Let me know how it goes!
- Jeff Smith