successful networking skills
What is Networking?
The first dictionary definition we found referred to networking as:
“Two or more devices or people that can communicate with each other and share resources.”
What is interesting here is the word ‘share’ – not least because when you put your focus on what is going on with the other person you are more likely to make genuine connections. It also helps take the pressure off you to perform differently.
Aside from the fact that few of us enjoy talking to performing seals, it is a relief to know that you can still be your authentic self too. If networking is a process of mutual benefit, it is clear that what you say needs to be of potential interest or relevance to them, which means knowing what is going on in their world.
Turning up your curiosity in the first place means you are more likely to find out. Tuned in to what they may have to gain from talking or listening to you, you are more likely to discover links between you, which will also help inform your next steps.
Helpful or obvious, the definition also suggests that networking involves knowing how to communicate, which may also mean knowing how to build rapport, break the ice or join and leave groups gracefully.
From your point of view, networking may present an opportunity to find and develop personal and professional relationships. Whether this means making new friends or acquaintances, building professional contacts within your company or industry or maintaining them with colleagues, peers or potential clients – it’s important. So is the fine-tuning of your skills in this area.
Whether you like it or not, we are communicating something most of the time. We cannot turn off our body language. Even when your focus may be elsewhere, it is likely that you are surrounded by informal opportunities to network on a daily basis.
The formal variety, touted as professional networking ‘opportunities’ – the ones which revolve around greeting, handshake and exchanging business cards can be more dreaded affairs. Yet they don’t have to be.
While you may already feel in your bones that you don’t like the sound of them, you could choose to frame the way you think about them differently. As opportunities to expand your professional network and sphere of influence, you may meet people who can be of help to you. Even more radically, you can be of help to them.
Set up to facilitate exchanges of business information, ideas, and support, formal professional networking events can help you stay informed and up to speed on what is going on in the business world.
Try to see networking as useful or at the very least, part and parcel of professional life, as a chance to uncover opportunities or avoid potential landmines, to benefit from the ideas and experience of others and to achieve your business objectives.
Our advice is to take networking as seriously as you would other aspects of your professional lives. Networking offers you opportunities you might not otherwise find. It’s how the world turns, so you may want to have a quick recap of some of the things you already do to network well.
How are you already a great networker?
We think there are at least a dozen questions to ask yourself about how well you're doing in the networking stakes...
1. Are you an active listener?
Listening is surely the most important skill for effective business networking. Focusing on how you can help the person you are listening to, rather than on how he or she can help you, is the first step to establishing a mutually beneficial relationship.
2. Do you identify clear goals for yourself?
Visualising your ideal future will help you to clarify exactly what it is you want to achieve in terms of specific goals.
You may want to tell people what you’re looking for - first you need to tell yourself exactly what it is that you want. In terms of a particular networking opportunity, formal or otherwise, clearly, it's useful to think about what you need to accomplish.
Are you looking to develop new business or do you want to expand your network of contacts and become known as the ‘go-to’ person in the industry?
3. Are you good at linking up?
Whether in person or online, have you joined key sites like Linkedin, Facebook, Google plus et al? Being a committed tweeter or WhatsApper is obviously another key way to gain access and exposure to people you might not otherwise meet.
For those who feel feel shy in face-to-face situations joining social media groups is a great way to extend your professional circles. And because everyone knows that networking is the name of the game, it's a very easy way to say hello and get connected.
4. Are you organised?
No matter what your occupation, there’s usually a professional organization for you. National and international professional associations often have local groups where you can meet. Attend conferences and other professional events that could help you keep up-to-date on the latest industry news, trends, developments and research.
5. Do you really use your business cards?
Your business card, if you have one, is usually one of your best networking tools. Always have plenty on hand and don’t be shy about handing them out along with positive greetings or firm handshakes.
6. Is your style always appropriate?
If you stay around for a longer chat stay on the same page with the tone of your communications. Stay conscious of cultural expectations. Over-familiarity will alienate some, while extreme formality might do the same to others. Judge if they really need your entire career history and your inside leg measurements.
A brief declaration of who you are and why you thought you would introduce yourself is a safer option. Have a look at our GRABS formula if you think an elevator pitch might help you to prepare.
7. Are you extra polite?
If in doubt, be uber polite. Thank people for their advice, acknowledge their worries and concerns, affirm their perspectives – stay attentive to their feelings.
Whether you decide to make a call, send them an email or a handwritten note, follow up your meetings and promises, let them know you enjoyed meeting them.
Create the impression you choose, as savvy professional, an easy person to do business with or a source of useful information. How do you want to be remembered?
8. Do you ever give your time and energy for free?
Why not call people with no ulterior motive but just to stay in touch? Send them an email about an article, conference or product that you think they would find interesting or useful. Give them something for free.
You could also include supporting good causes and volunteering here. Helping a charity or getting involved in community events often means developing new relationships and is a form of networking that can pay all sorts of dividends - beyond those to your soul!
And for those who feel they simply don’t have the time or energy for philanthropy, think again. Taking an active part in your company’s corporate social responsibility programme still means a win-win for all concerned - whether your intentions are totally pure or not.
9. Do you stay connected and visible?
Remain connected between meetings. There’s a fine line between being seen as a resource and being seen as a spamming nightmare, so if you’re not sure how to pitch things, do your homework first. You could post a reply to a request on their group’s message board, forward them information or email them contact information. Staying in touch means staying visible.
10. Do you create your own opportunities?
Start something! It could be a special interest group, an extra-curricular club or some sort of society. You might introduce or suggest an idea or special project or scheme at your company. There are countless ways of getting people together that may lead to making more connections.
Why not send out invitations to something? Some people believe that the best networking takes place socially. Inviting colleagues, prospective clients and contacts to an event establishes a more personal relationship.
11. Are you actively seeking connections?
According to some, ‘It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you’ which may sound horribly cynical. It may still be worth thinking about those people you DON’T know who you’d like to know.
They may be someone who knows something you want to know, an expert in your field, someone you can learn from, someone able to offer you business opportunities, or else the person who could introduce you to someone else. Who you do you already know who may know them? Six degrees of separation and all that!
It's usually far easier to meet new people through those you know already, so get your friends and colleagues working with you. Just remember though that there’s nothing worse than abusing the favour - so make sure it’s worth their while, as their reputation may be on the line too.
12. Have you revisited your past recently?
Speaking of friends, what are your old school friends or acquaintances up to now? Look them up and stay connected, there could be all sorts of nice surprises out there!