“The successful networkers I know, the ones receiving tons of referrals and feeling truly happy about themselves, continually put the other person’s needs ahead of their own.” – Bob Burg
Lately, I have been doing a ton of networking. It was important for me to research and really grasp what’s going on in the networking world. I also wanted to understand the needs of other networkers, considering that the networking I do is typically very focused, specific and is mostly around my role with NetworkInAustin. You see, time and time again NIA members have told me how much our NetStorming event rocks. They tell me it is the best networking event they’ve ever attended. While I love hearing this, I wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t admit that I really didn’t understand why. So, I set out this month on a mission to find out exactly what our “special sauce” is and how we can build and improve upon it. Hopefully you’ll find tips and tidbits here that will help you when you’re out there networking.
First, when engaging with someone or being engaged at an event, I try to connect with the person on a personal level. So I asked if they were from Austin and/or where they grew up. I told them about being a native Austinite (surprise, most people aren’t! ) and what it was like growing up here. Then I asked what brought them to the event or how they heard about it. Interestingly, the common theme I heard over and over was “Well, I hate networking”, “ I don’t network”, and “I’m very busy, I don’t need to network.” What I realized from these conversations is many people don’t understand that there are reasons to network aside from just gaining business.
Networking is about building relationships. Often times a connection will provide fruit that you never expected. Which is why it’s important to connect with the person first. Find something, anything to connect about. Ask if they have pets or children. Usually they’ll have one or the other. Or if they’re insane like me, they may have both. Notice how they light up when talking about them. Ask what they’ve done recently that was fun. Or ask what their favorite restaurant is. Again, remember to try to connect on a personal level. Keep in mind, if there is business to be had then it will be had.
Also, keep in mind, that now is the time to develop relationships, not just when you need them. There is no better way to do that than to give back. You can share ideas or make introductions. There may come a time, (heck, I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that there WILL be) a day where you’ll need to call on those you’ve helped and leverage the relationships that you’ve built. Networking from a place of desperation is never a good thing. Like any relationship, your networking efforts are and should be a two-way street.
During my crash course in networking events, I also wanted to find out where folks spend their time networking. So I asked what other events they attend. I wasn’t just doing this for my own personal gain and I wasn’t asking in order to promote NIA events. It’s actually a question I’m asked a lot and as I mentioned earlier, the number of networking events I attend is very limited. The answer that I most commonly heard was “Anywhere that’s free” and “I never pay for networking events.” I totally get that. If I had paid for every networking event that I attended while doing my research this month, I would’ve gone broke. However, what I found when comparing the events that I attended “free” versus those that I paid to attend, I generally left the paid events with more solid connections than those I attended for “free.” I also left feeling less (for lack of a better word) “icky.” Perhaps, you may be wondering why I have “free” in quotations. Let me explain. Networking is never really actually free. First of all, you are spending your time. And we all know that time is money. Second of all, even if there is no fee to attend the actual event, you usually have to buy lunch, coffee, or drinks. Which means it’s not free. Though some of the “free” events I attended were actually quite good, in general, I found that the events I paid to attend offered a better quality of attendees. Mostly because the folks there almost always shared the same philosophy around networking that I hold dear.
In conclusion, I suggest that you do not do as I did. Don’t take the shotgun approach to networking. Focus your networking efforts. Ask a trusted friend or client where they spend their time and why they find it beneficial. Then find a group and stick with it. It’s important to understand that in most networking situations you shouldn’t expect to gain business immediately. It takes time to build trust when you’re new to a group . Don’t rush to measure results (ROI) before 6-12 months. This time frame is where you should start to see opportunity IF you’re consistent in your involvement, take the time to get to know attendees beyond what they do for a living and attend regular events. Most importantly, don’t lose sight of the fact that networking can and should be fun!