When one thinks of networking experts, different images are conjured up. One image could be a suave, sophisticated smart gentleman working a room with such ease and finesse who evokes images of James Bond. He carries a sort of cool, calm collected look, as he interacts with the who’s who in a room. Another could be of a graceful lady who walks through a room smiling, briefly chatting up guests and drawing laughter.
The counter image to the two above is that of a networker who rushes through the room like Usain Bolt as he dishes out cards like free product samples that no one asked for. He takes a moment to smile and immediately thrusts a business card into your hand. As he leaves, he tells you to call him.
Which of these two people would you like to do business with? We think the first one may hold more appeal. We certainly would not like to do business with the ‘speed-dater’ in the second scenario.
There is more to effective networking than meets the eye. While effective networking may seems effortless,, developing and maintaining an effective network that is a genuine and productive takes time and careful planning.
The term ‘Networking’ refers to the interactions you have with people and the relationships that you maintain. Done well, networking will lead to beneficial business or personal outcomes, such as securing a contract or achieving career progression. Done wrong, networking results in frustration and annoyance all round.
Good networkers understand that relationships are two-way and need to be mutually beneficial. Bad networkers focus only on the benefits they can derive for themselves. This is where the mistakes start.
Mistake No. 1 – If the objective is obviously self-serving, authenticity is lost.
Many people go out to network with a specific objective in mind. The people in the room can see it clearly, they look like hunters out for prey, they ooze of determination and impatience.
Networking requires patience. Before you get to your objective, you need to interact with someone for more than just a minute. You need to take time to get to know them. In the words of Mike Mwai, the Director of the Luxury Network in Kenya, “the biggest mistake is to be in a hurry”.
You will not know how you can be of value to someone until you know something about them and their priorities. This takes time.
Mistake No. 2 – Stop being self-absorbed
Getting to know someone is the most important principle and pillar of networking. Face to face interactions are best for this.
When people go out to network, many focus too much on what they want, what they think and how they feel. If one truly seeks to interact with someone else, the focus should be one the audience. Good networkers are outward looking and seek service beyond self.
A good networker shelves their preconceptions in order to have a true and honest interaction so as to develop a genuine relationship. He or she endeavors to know people beyond their business titles and the organization they work for. They take the time to know others as individual first before considering their status, rank and power. So how does one build their profile as a master networker?
Here are some principles around self-profiling:
- Be Seen
- Be Known
- Be Effective
In the words of Mike Mwai, “if you are not top of mind, you are bottom of the pile”. Creating top-of-mind awareness requires one to be seen often and in the right places. This visibility enables a contact to think of you when they need the product or service you provide. Utilizing communication channels such as social media to increase visibility is also advised but this requires careful consideration and planning.
Image constitutes part of being seen. So you must also dress the part.
Beyond visibility, building credibility within your desired network gets you known. Rather then academic credentials, being known is a factor of the work you have done and the people who can vouch for you.
You can build credibility through customer testimonials and thought leadership.
If you are providing a product or service for members of your network, ensure that the solution absolutely addresses their needs. Having spent time understanding your client, their business and their priorities, as a superior networker, you will be well placed to deliver a superior solution. Keep thinking about your client. Be effective.
Be useful as well. Even when you cannot provide the product or service yourself, make sure you try to help members of your network solve their problems. Recommend contacts or suppliers, put people in touch with each other and become the ‘go to’ person for members of your network when they are searching for a solution to a difficult problem.
Networking is more of an art than an exact science. The best networkers seem to do it naturally but they work hard at it. They have internalized the principles and techniques, and aligned the theory to their own personalities. They are authentic and true to themselves while staying focused on the needs of others. They are also alive in the moment and responsive to the environment around them. Good networking leads to sound relationships that can lead to good business. Learn it and practice it.