- Always carry your business cards with you. Networking opportunities can present themselves at parties, at church or in elevators.
- Talk to everyone everywhere. You never know who someone is until you start speaking with them. For example, I met one of my best public relations clients in front of the merry-go-round in a local mall.
- Don't sit with friends at meetings. You can speak with them any time. Try to sit by new people at each networking function so you can get to know them.
- Set a goal to meet five (or more) new people at each networking meeting. Most groups have a social/networking time before the official meeting starts. Make it a point to approach and exchange business cards with people you don't know.
- Be a good listener. Listening has become a lost art. Everyone is in such a hurry to make a sale that they forget one important point: You can't "sell" to someone until you get to know them first. Most people won't do business with strangers, so become a friend.
- Focus on others. What can you do to help them? Introduce them to someone you know; find out what their needs are and make suggestions; give them a referral for their product or service.
- Build your people skills. How would you like to be treated? Be friendly, sincere, warm, caring . . . all the qualities you like in others whom you consider friends.
- Think of networking as an investment one that will pay off down the road. Make friends when you don't need them; then they will be there when you do require help. Don't expect a lot of business from your first networking meeting. It doesn't work like that. You are still unknown to people the first few times they meet you.
- Make networking an active behavior. Being a wallflower is not effective in a business situation. Make the effort to reach out your hand first. You'll be surprised how relieved other people look because they are afraid no one will talk to them.
- Volunteer your expertise to the group. The best way to become known in an organization is to be active and visible. Become a board member or get on a committee. If you don't have much time to donate, help sign people in or assist with hospitality at the meeting. Think in terms of acting like a host or hostess. If you're shy, this has the double benefit of giving you something to do and a reason to talk to people.
- Be concise and memorable when you introduce yourself. There's no greater turnoff than someone who brags about his business especially if you can't understand what he's talking about. Talk in "layman's terms," without industry jargon, and keep it simple. You might say something funny, clever, or different so that people will remember what you do.
- Visit new business organizations regularly. Opportunities increase as you make yourself available to new groups of people. Even if you're not prospecting for business, you can make contacts for the future or pick up a vital piece of information that affects your company.
TIPS FROM NETWORKING EXPERTS
How do you build and maintain a network of professional contacts? Hear from three human resource professionals. All three stress that networking requires giving as well as taking. Other pointers include a discussion of your "90 second honeymoon" with each new contact, unusual ways to make creative networking exchanges, and the importance of common courtesy.
George M. Smart Jr.
President of Strategic Management Resources
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Networking makes you look ubiquitous, like you're everywhere. You're creating word of mouth. If you're talking to people, they're probably talking to other people about you.
And most of the time, people talk positively about folks unless they've been given a reason to do otherwise. For me, it's like having a sales force of 2,300 people whom I don't have to pay.
One of the most important things is just realizing that you need to build a network. Contacts are important even in departments that don't seem to be related or that have not expressed a need for your services. That builds up a personal power base, and is good PR.
I got into networking with such zeal because I'm basically an introvert. I found that I needed more social skills. I thrust myself out there on the world and started to meet people. That was hard to do at first, but I realized that I liked it. And it's like second nature now.
- Learn how to make personal introductions that come across well and also convey what you do.
People have this fear that other people won't take them seriously or will laugh at them. But that rarely happens. When it does, I just reminded myself of all the hundreds of thousands of positive interactions I've had. You never do away with the risk, but it's much less of a risk than most people think.
Studies on communication show that the average person takes 90 seconds or less to make a judgment on new information. So if you're meeting someone for the first time, your honeymoon period with that person is about 90 seconds. You've go 90 seconds to convey information that will help that person to form a positive impression of you.
Answer four questions when you're networking with someone for the first time:
- Who are you? (Give your name, company and title.)
- What product or service do you provide?
- For whom do you provide that product or service? (For example, is this an internal function?)
- So what? (Why is your service unique or better or important? What will stick in the mind of this person when you leave?)
You also must allow the other person the same opportunity. You're forming opinions about him or her as well. And I often ask for a business card so I don't have to remember everything.
After a particularly favorable interaction, take the time to write a personal note to the person, saying something like this: "Dear Jane, I enjoyed speaking with you at the board meeting and learning about your department. Enclosed is a brochure about my services. I hope that we can meet again in the future."
A nice, handwritten note makes much more of an impact than something you whip out on a laser printer.
- Following up with people is another key component of networking.
I suggest that you somehow contact everybody in your network at least once every six months. That can be a phone call, a postcard, a letter, a memo, a meeting, or any other kind of personal contact. That's just to jog their memories and remind them that you're there.
Every three to six months I send out a newsletter to practically every person that I have ever talked with. That puts my name and company and logo in front of people again. It reminds them that I'm out here. I usually do a cover story on some project that I'm involved in to let them know what kind of consulting work I've been doing.
I started off using a pencil and paper system to keep track of my network. Once you have more than 100 or 150 names, you really need a computer. I use a very simple database that is wonderful. It's called PC File and is made by Button Ware Corporation.
PC File enables you to set up a computerized Rolodex of names, addresses, phone numbers, and so forth. You can search through that by any of those fields of information. For example, if I remember only that your first name is Catherine and that you live in Washington, D.C., I can ask it to scan for all the Catherines in Washington and it will give me a list. The program will also dial numbers if you have a modem on your computer.
The entry for each person in my network has a status field in which I put what happened in my last interaction with that person. If someone says to call in six months, I put down, "Call in July 1994." People are very impressed when you actually remember to call them in July 1994.
I probably spend two or three hours a week doing strictly networking activities. In the beginning I was spending more than that probably a day a week because I was so enthusiastic about it and wanted to build a network quickly.
- Make use of organizations that can serve as sources of contacts.
I think the very best way to start is to join professional organizations. By far they are the best game in town in most places, to make contacts within your profession and to see what other people are doing. You meet people through national conferences and monthly chapter meetings.
Some of my best contacts are other consultants; they're probably my richest source of leads. It seems contrary to conventional wisdom, but that's the way it works.
Many people don't experiment with that because they view other people in the business as competitors. But most consultants with whom I come in contact don't do exactly the same thing I do. When you discover that your work doesn't overlap completely with another consultant's, that means you can refer clients to each other in those areas.
For example, I do a lot of retreats. Some consultants I know don't want to fool with them. When they talk to clients who are interested in retreats, they refer those clients to me. I end up being a referral source for other people too. For example, I use the Myers Briggs in training, but I don't administer it. I have several people in my network on whom I call to administer Myers briggs instruments to people in my groups.
Chambers of Commerce are good places to network. Join your local Chamber of Commerce, particularly if you are an external consultant. It allows you to meet people from a variety of businesses and make contacts. Anybody can join; many large companies are already members.
I don't know if a lot of people take advantage of them as a resource, but alumni associations are great networks of people. If you've got a degree from anywhere, there is an alumni association near you. They are usually not that expensive, and they provide a way of networking with professionals at a college graduate level, even if you don't have a college degree at all.
An alumni association's primary goal is to bring money into the campus, so it doesn't really care who joins. That's the case for almost all major universities. In other words, you can be a member of the Stanford Alumni Association even if you didn't go to Stanford.
- Don't use networking as a sales tool.
External networking is a wonderful way of expanding one's influence in a particular market. But if you try to use it as a sales tool, you will probably make more people angry than you will influence positively.
If you ever go into a situation one-on-one with somebody and try to hard sell them through networking, it almost always results in the other person feeling pressured or cornered. Nobody like to feel cornered. Sales may result from networking, but the time lag is usually pretty long. You may make a sale as a direct result of networking, but it could take years to incubate.
My newsletter is a sales tool, of course, but the networking really isn't except over the long term. When people in North Carolina think of organizational development, I want to be one of the first three people they think of. In many cases I'm the only person that they think of. When they think about that subject they can call me up or refer their friends or colleagues to me.
That's where the real benefit comes over time. They're out there working for you. It may be that they just mention you to three people a year, but a personal referral like that is valuable.
Mary Gall Biebel
Carwile Biebel Consulting
I've never thought about having a network. The first thing I did when I started to think about this topic was to ask my friends for their ideas. Then it occurred to me: that was my network.
Building a network or support system, or a series of contacts is a lot easier for some people than for others. Part of it has to do with your own personality. Part of it is learning not to be shy. Sometimes that's hard.
Don't be afraid to reach out and network with people who are in a different part of your business.
Don't limit your networking activities to people who do just what you do. Some of my best ideas come from people who are very far removed from the fields in which I work.
Be open and truly interested in what other people do. Just listen not to get something out of it, or to use it in some way, but just to find out what people do. There is a lot of spill-over of ideas. They all fit together like a mosaic, little bits and pieces of all we have to offer.
I think we have a lot to learn from each other.
- Work on being competent yourself.
If you're competent, people will come to you. There are different ways to show your competence. You need to find a non-abrasive way to articulate your competence.
If you're competent, people will come to you. There are different ways to show your competence. You need to find a non-abrasive way to articulate your competence.
If you're feeling a little shy or awkward, or if you're in a new organization, the temptation is to get in there and demonstrate your competence by challenging all other's competence. That turns people off. Find a natural way to demonstrate that you know what you're doing.
A lot of people who come to me to network are really entry level. That's OK, but they think that they can build their competence by tapping into somebody else's knowledge. I don't think that's true. Work on your own competence as well as building a support network and people will start coming to you.
- Make networking an interactive, two-way process.
The best time to think about building a network is not when you need it.
Say you have not been involved and don't have a support system. You haven't been out there and don't know the people. Then you suddenly lost your job or become a consultant and need to build up a client base of get basic information. That's an awkward time to call somebody, out of the blue, and say, "Let me network with you." I've seen that happen a lot.
Be prepared. Think about what it is you want out of an interaction. If you're going to do it with someone who's not already part of your network, listen as well as talk. Listen to what that person has to say. Follow through with whatever commitments you make. If I tell someone I'm going to do something, I make it a point to follow up and send that article or get that name or make that phone call.
I've been the recipient of it the other way, when I've followed through and the other person hasn't. That really leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
- Really get involved in professional societies.
It is the single best way to build a network of professional colleagues.
Don't just join an organization. Most of us belong to multiple organizations. Don't just pay your dues; go to the meetings. Once you get to the meetings, get involved. Volunteer. It's a wonderful way to meet people and to learn what's going on. There's a wealth of information.
When you go to conferences, don't be shy. Go up and introduce yourself to people. Get involved and get information about your particular interests. There are a lot of opportunities for people to get involved in professional organizations. They are always looking for people. And the organizations love it when somebody new who is competent comes in and says, "What can I do?" I wish people would be more proactive about volunteering what they know.
- Instead of focusing on what you can get out of networking, think about what you can give.
Think about what you can give back to the profession and to the people who are less experienced than you are.
The people in my network are the most generous group of professionals that you can imagine. Someone will say, "Oh, are you having problems coming up with a better way to measure the effectiveness of that program? Here are five things you might try." They don't hold on to their knowledge.
I see a lot of good consultants giving away information. They're not hoarding their secrets. There are enough problems out there for all of us to solve.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter has a great statement: "It's not power that corrupts; it's powerlessness." When people feel really competent and powerful and personally and professionally strong, I think they're much more likely to give it away.
Professional Secretaries International
Kansas City, MO
When you look at that word "network," you think of a net; that would indicate communication in all directions. When you're building networks, don't network only in one direction.
Some people only network down, because that makes them feel comfortable they're the ones with the knowledge and information. Some people always network up, looking at what's in it for them. Others network laterally. But if you only network with your peers, they'll just feed back your ideas; they'll be supportive because they're coming from the same area. To effectively network you should cast your net in all directions.