Networking is such a buzzword these days.
We hear about it all the time – whether we’re looking for a job, trying to make business contacts, working on a personal project – or just trying to meet new people.
In fact, the other night I was talking about LinkedIn, and someone made the comment, “only people that are looking for a job or are “wannabes” are on LinkedIn.”
There may be some truth in that, but I don’t really believe it. There are people of all kinds and all levels and all experiences on LinkedIn.
But, I think this person – and a lot of others – are missing the point of LinkedIn and networking in general – since it seems they believe that “networking” is only something to be done when we need something! Because networking is what we’re often told to do as when we’re facing a problem, it’s really no surprise that this is how many people see it. So, “networking” becomes the “fix-it” reaction when something goes wrong…
Well, in reality, these people might be surprised to hear that true and effective networking is a lifestyle. They also might be surprised at what things could be considered networking, or networking related.
Networking. Build your network. Harness the power of your network. But what does that really mean?
As someone studying success and following a lot of successful people online, I hear a lot about how the network we have is one of the most important things we can have in order to accomplish our goals.
But there are also a lot of misconceptions out there about what it means “to network” or to build a network.
This Fast Company article offers a great intro to how to better grow your network and make better connections. Also, the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi is a great resource for people looking to do more with their networks. (I highly recommend these resources to anyone who things networking is just going to miscellaneous events and handing out/collecting cards. Also, to anyone who is skeptical of “networking” as a way of moving forward. )
So – briefly – here’s my take based on my own research (articles, book(s), blogs, etc.) and my own experience. And, I’ll be honest, I a, not yet an expert on this and I certainly have room to grow – but I have also gotten better at this skill over time and am continuing to grow.
I first learned that networking is a long term strategy when I had a problem – my main client went out of business. I wasn’t really networking while working for them for a year. They were occupying my time, as if I were a full-time employee. Then, one day – while on a job for them!! – my editor called to tell me it was all over.
This was the very first freelance gig I had, and I hadn’t been prepared. I hadn’t been workng on cultivating a network. Or learning sales, or building business systems, or anything like that. I was so focused on doing an outstanding job for this client…
Then, I got my last invoice paid, and was left with nothing.
This was when I first realized, “Sh*t!!! Why wasn’t I “networking” this whole time?!” I.E. Networking is something you do all the time, not just when you need something… Why? Well, because when you don’t “need something” you have time to build the foundation of the relationships, and then, when the time comes that you need something, you’ve already got people that are looking out for you!
We don’t live in a vacuum and in order to get to where we want to go, there WILL be other people involved. No matter what. There is no other option. So we might as well be open to it and learn to master it in our own ways.
What I’ve come to understand, now, in my infinite wisdom (sarcasm!), is that networking is really about building solid, long-term relationships based on generosity and value.
It’s about caring about and having a genuine interest in other people and not just yourself. Simply – it’s not just making a sale now or getting a job tomorrow, rather it’s a focus on the long term that brings in benefits like repeat clients, referrals and new opportunities – only after you’ve been a support for someone else.
More importantly, it’s about more than just our careers. It’s about finding a community that you support and which supports you.
It’s about learning and sharing our knowledge, skills and expertise.
It’s about having fun. It’s about being engaged with people and interested in their pursuits.
And, most importantly – it’s not something that can be done once and forgotten. Or once when only we need something.
Networking is a process. It takes time. It encompasses all the things you do when you’re building a relationship – every email you send, every text message, every social media post or share, every meeting, every favor, every phone call, etc. Everything. Not just the first meeting.
Networking is about developing strong relationships – not just asking people for things when you need them or going out to a random event and thinking that’s good enough.
Well networked people really understand that it’s about connecting strategically and authentically with other people and adding value to other people’s lives – in whatever way that might be. And they understand that it’s something worth doing at all times and actively taking the time to do. And they put the time and effort into it.
And the kicker? That. Is. Why. They. Are. Where. They. Are.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking on so-called “networking events” and “mixers”. I still go to them occasionally. And, when I was really just starting out in my business, I went to them all the time. And I didn’t know what my purpose was, really, at that point. But, what I’ve since realized is that these events can be valuable if they are not about looking for an immediate sale or specific thing from the people you meet, but rather about making genuine connections with people and then following up in a more in-depth, personal way – not just exchanging cards and maybe sending an email saying “nice to have met you” – but being open to what you can learn from each other and do for each other, even if it might not be so evident.
The other key thing I have realized about networking is, it can be completely serendipitous. It’s important to stay open to making chance encounters in seemingly random places. I’ve had some really great chance encounters on sidewalks, at events and in coffee shops which have led to great relationships and interesting opportunities. It’s about being open, aware of your surroundings and listening… and aiming to make a real connection.
Just the other day I was in a coffee shop and overheard a really interesting conversation about topics that I care about. I couldn’t help but join their conversation. Who knows what will come from it, but it’s certainly good things.
Another time, I walked up to someone on the street who was using two DSLR cameras in a small town. She turned out to be an editor for a local publication. That event led to a year’s worth of assignment work.
I also learned some interesting things about the baristas at the coffee shops I go to regularly – just by being open – and they have connected to me other things as well.
That’s really all networking is: building relationships worth having. And how, when and where you do it is up to you. But the most important thing I hope you take out of this is that it’s one of the most important things you can to do in your life – not just to get ahead, but to live a more fulfilling life. And, it’s not sleazy.
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And lastly, I’d love to hear what your experience with “networking” has been and what other insights you might have on the topic. Feel free to share in the comment area below!