Networking

by Heather White

In a nutshell

1. What is and is not networking?

Networking is a business and personal type of marketing. As with any form of marketing, there is a skill to making this work. Some people are just naturally good at it, but most of us have to learn how to network.

  • Recruitment agencies all agree that 70 per cent of roles are found through networking.
  • All good networkers who work in the business development areas will say that up to 90 per cent of their new business comes from word-of-mouth marketing, referrals and networking.
  • Networking activities should include a mix between internal and external contacts.
  • It’s not about brown nosing your bosses, being out every night or being gregarious.
  • It’s not just about selling.

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2. Why you should network – the benefits

Bottom line – your career and business performance will depend on you having the right connections and visibility. Networking is an essential element of your job and your career. Your connections should include having a sponsor, a mentor or coach or role models; it should also include knowing the best recruitment agencies and having an updated CV. You should support all of this with up-to-the-minute technical skills and with honed soft skills. Your company also needs to market itself to its markets, stake holders, shareholders, new employees, existing employees and so on. While this might look like a long list of people, when you put it into the context of your career outcome you may see it differently. To motivate yourself, remember that networking is about

  • Learning and being in the know
  • Gaining recognition from peers and seniors
  • Understanding your business and developing your skills
  • Meeting new people
  • Being involved with special projects
  • Finding your next job; not being overlooked.

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3. Always a reason not to go?

The excuses people give for not going to networking events boil down to being shy, the fear of rejection, or of sounding or looking stupid, and lack of confidence. To get over these fears, you need to bear the benefits in mind and then try out the strategies that can help you to get used to it.

  • If there is a speaker, perhaps you could just stay for the initial registration and refreshment time, or arrive a little later and just talk to the people on either side when you sit down.
  • If there’s no speaker, you could go with a colleague or stay for a limited amount of time only.
  • If you are the host, you could man the reception desk or hand out food or drinks, or act as an introducer.

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4. If only I had more time

This is a genuine problem, and one felt by every person I have ever met. Well... that’s not quite true. You see, ‘professional networkers’ don’t think lack of time is a problem. Their mindset is that networking (building relationships, being of service and so on) is a way of ‘being’, not a burden.

If you pace the level of connections you make in a week/day and are consistent in your activity, then you always have time over a week to drop someone an email or make a quick call or text them.

It’s amazing what you can do if you simply allocate six minutes a day to networking.

Professional networkers know that not to network is a mistake and a time-costly one at that. If they are not connected to the right people, they know it will take twice as long to find out stuff, or they may never hear about opportunities and so on.

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5. How to get started – do this bit first

If you don’t have a strong enough personal reason to network, you are unlikely to sustain your attention on this important activity. It is vital that you create a compelling personal reason to get out there under your own steam.

  • Refine your reasons for networking, such as career development, winning new contacts/business, to position yourself as an expert, to learn and/or to make new friends.
  • Clarify what sort of contacts you need to achieve your aims.
  • Work out how many contacts you need to make to ‘get the job done’.
  • Do you know the names of the people you want to contact, their title, their business or what membership organisations you should join?
  • Where are your priorities and how will you allocate your time?

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6. Before you go to an event

Before going to an event, review your motivation, your aims and what you hope to achieve.

  • Find out who will be there, the dress code and the format of the event.
  • Prepare and rehearse a 60-second pitch: remember that it should help you to engage in conversation, not overwhelm the other person with information about you they don’t really want.

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7. Getting out of your comfort zones

If you feel uncomfortable about going to an event there are things that you can do to gradually acclimatise. You can go to events for just the start, or just the speaker slot.

The best way of building confidence and reducing clumsiness is to practise that which you dislike.

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8. How do you work a room professionally?

The 80/20 rule applies. People are people the world over, so 80 per cent of your effort should be focused on your interpersonal skills, with the aim of building rapport and trust. As every event is slightly different, 20 per cent of your focus should go on adapting to that environment.

  • Pin your badge top right, to make it easier to read.
  • Introduce yourself to the sponsors/organisers.
  • Always re-establish relationships with people you know first.
  • Repeat names, to help you remember them.
  • Show genuine curiosity.
  • Learn how to read body language (see the topic on Body Language).
  • Ask more questions, rather than just talking about yourself.
  • Memorise at least ten good generic questions, remembering that quality questions have a strong ‘emotional hook’ to stimulate the conversation.
  • Stand on your own for a few minutes and simply watch the room.
  • Join a group where there is a gap and walk in, making eye contact with one person.
  • When joining a group, leave a gap to allow others to join in or to leave the group.
  • Take your leave politely, giving a reason for moving on.
  • Laugh at yourself when something embarrassing happens and don’t take it seriously – just make a note to avoid the pitfall next time.
  • Don’t hold back or you will set yourself aside and make others feel uncomfortable.

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9. How to host an event

All the guidelines for working a room professionally apply here, but there are a few other things you need to consider if you are the host rather than the guest.

  • The pre-event briefing to your team: your people can enhance or destroy your reputation, depending on how they react and respond to your guests. So spend 60 minutes making sure everyone knows what is happening, their roles and their guests’ expectations.
  • How to ‘work’ your guests: the guidelines on working a room professionally and the pre-event briefing should cover a stand-up event. If you are hosting a table, you should introduce guests before the starter, consider changing places between courses and, as host, keep an eye to make sure no-one is left out of the conversation.
  • Junior and senior executives should liaise beforehand to make sure that introductions run smoothly.
  • The post-event briefing to your team: post the event, it is very important that people follow through quickly on whatever was agreed upon during various conversations. The trouble is that many people leave in a ‘relaxed’ manner, and it scores a lot of points when your staff are efficient and remember to follow through. The rule of thumb here is to get back to a contact within 48 hours.

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10. The follow up

There are two sides to the follow-up coin, if you like. Are people staying in contact with you and if so what for? Are you getting back to others and, if so, how are they responding to you? So, if you’ve done the right things; handed out your card; tried to get in touch, and they don’t call back, what do you do? It may be for one or several of the following reasons and you need to learn for next time.

  • You didn’t set up the relationship properly in the first place.
  • You are not managing your own expectations.
  • The buying cycle is not in tune with your networking activities.
  • The buying culture is not in tune with your networking activities.
  • Your message is not coming across.
  • You soft skills are not working.
  • You are using the wrong tools to communicate with this person.
  • Your emotional intelligence is not honed in.
  • The amount of time and effort you are giving this is sporadic.
  • You are not adding value.

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11. Soft skills

To be an elegant and successful networker, you need to be proficient in the soft skills listed below, all of which you need anyway, if you are to be good at your job. You need to be

  • Trustworthy and respected
  • An active listener
  • A good conversationalist
  • Able to be confidences
  • A problem solver and negotiator
  • A good observer and able to read others
  • An influencer

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12. Personal branding, messaging/identity

Your personal brand is what people remember about you when you are not there and it affects people’s decisions as to whether or not they want to build the relationship further, hire or promote you, or do business with you. It is a combination of your public/professional and private selves.

  • Your personal brand will affect your impact at all stages of networking.
  • Only if your contacts are clear about what you are trying to achieve, and they like and trust you enough, will they be able and willing to pass you the information you are looking for and connect you with the right people.
  • You should be able to back up your brand message with concrete evidence that you are what you claim.
  • Your brand needs to be kept up to date.

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13. Creating champions

A champion is someone who really rates you and is very happy to say positive things about you behind your back. Word of mouth marketing is just that, people talking positively about you behind your back. If you bring together everything you have read about networking so far, this is the bit ‘when the rubber hits the road’.

  • Some champions simply create themselves – these are people you already know and who already admire you and or your work.
  • Sometimes, you don’t know who might be a fan of yours.
  • You may not have fans across all the relevant areas – your peer group, senior executives, suppliers, clients and so on.
  • To create new champions you need to do thorough research.
  • It works best if you aim to develop relationships with people that you think you can get to like, because it is easier and it will be genuine.

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14. Develop good relationships with your seniors

No matter what your level within your organisation, you need to have useful relationships with senior executives and, if you are at the top, with the stakeholders.

  • Their opinion of you will come in part from other people – hopefully your good contacts.
  • If you don’t click with them or rarely see them, you need to put in careful research as to what they want from you and then act upon it.
  • Stay at the top level of performance.

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15. What most corporates do wrong

Most corporates want their people to network, but this doesn’t always translate into successful action. The four main reasons that prevent people from networking effectively are

  • The policies of the policy makers work against networking – changes are too frequent, the reward structure is unhelpful or teams are not aligned with clients’ buying cycles or cultures
  • Team members find networking unnatural, and therefore need to be helped to change their approach, or they may need to hone existing skills
  • Departmental divisions, perhaps due to territorial or secretive attitudes, are hampering networking
  • Sometimes, the problem is that the line management and the team are either not in alignment with each other or have not synchronised their operations to fit in with the buying cycles of their clients.

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16. Techniques for shy or quiet types

We have succeeded in creating a networking style and approach that is unique to the individual and their preferences. The most important thing here is for you to become willing to try out different approaches and overcome your shyness about networking.

  • Go with a colleague and spend the first 20 minutes with them.
  • Always join groups of people you think look friendly and interesting.
  • Research and read as much as you can about the people who are going to the same event as you and include researching the organiser as well.
  • Set yourself a time limit, after which you can leave.
  • Remember most people there are feeling nervous.
  • Hover around the food area, where people tend to be more relaxed.

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17. The art of creating a stimulating conversation

The art of creating a good chat is like doing the waltz. Instead of saying to yourself 1, 2, 3 and 1, 2, 3... repeat this – watch, ask, listen and watch, ask, listen and so on.

  • Practise asking open and probing questions.
  • Be genuine and fresh each time you ask a question.
  • Listen carefully and frame another question out of the response.
  • Quality questions should have a strong ‘emotional hook’ to stimulate the conversation.
  • Your face, voice, eyes and body language should express real interest not ‘this is a technique’.

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18. Networking for home workers

To network from home, you need to keep your visibility high, both internally and externally; know how to do virtual social interaction, and dovetail virtual networking with face-to-face networking.

  • Get good at communicating effectively through the written word.
  • Create your own distinctive writing style.
  • Practise your voice skills.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to meet people face to face.
  • Read intranet sites, e-zines and other in-house magazines and make your thoughts known.
  • Join local groups.

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