In our complex economy, the need to network has never been greater. Networking is the lifeblood of business. Unfortunately, networking is one of those untaught critical skills that is left to most individuals to blindly navigate through.
Too often we encounter individuals who have absolutely no clue as to how to properly network. As stated previously, one can't place all the blame on the individual. Networking is an elusive activity with its own rituals that aren't learnt in a textbook. Most experienced networks achieve their abilities through a combination of self-awareness and self-adjustment as well as continual practice and refinement.
While networking is very much a personalized activity that needs to be individually customized, there are some general guidelines that can be provided to networkers. Networking is much more an art than a science but having some guidelines not only ensures the development of good behaviours but also ensures greater efficacy.
The following list of dos and don'ts isn't comprehensive and are merely meant as guidelines:
The Dos of Networking:
(1) Long Term Planning & Execution: Most consummate networkers know that to be successful at networking one needs to take the long term versus the short term. Whether it is an individual's career or developing a strategic sales partnership, actions have long lasting repercussions as previous actions build on current and future ones. Networking is very similar.
With today's globalized economy, one doesn't know where their career will take them. The same goes for their network. Individuals are increasingly changing positions on a frequent basis. As such, the consummate networker knows that while one network connection may not be of value at present, they may be critical in the future as one progresses in their career.
(2) Pay It Forward: Networking isn't only about one's self and their own career goals. It is about build a strong network of individuals that feed on each other's successes. Networking success comes in all forms. Whether it is providing the right introductions to fund a startup or a referral, "paying it forward" within the network will pay dividends as the network's successes multiply and bear fruit. Indeed, fostering a "pay it forward" network is a much more happier and beneficial one than one that is purely dominated by self-interest.
(3) Follow Up Promptly: Most consummate networkers know that human memory is a fleeting thing and if one does not promptly follow up with a new connection that connection will forget and move onto the next networker. While it is true that technology has improved one's memory when it comes to building network connections, nothing builds a longer lasting networking relationship than reinforcing the positive feeling made during the initial point of contact.
What defines prompt? Following up within 24 hours is probably the most impactful as it demonstrates a highly responsive nature while reinforcing the positive initial impression. That being said, within 24 to 48 hours is also acceptable but anything afterwards will have exponentially lower positive outcomes.
(4) Understand & Articulate Your Value: One of the biggest problems that inexperienced networkers encounter is understanding and articulating their own value. Unlike in the previous generation with stable and predictable career paths, most networkers can't rely solely on their current role as defining their networking value. Today's networker has to think holistically concerning the value they not only offer now but what they will offer in the future as well.
Failing to articulate one's value beyond one's current position sets a networker up for short term sales pitches more often than not. Experienced networkers know how to not only succinctly sum up their value proposition in a single phrase (e.g. "experienced super-connector") but they also know how to weave a memorable story that concretely demonstrates their value proposition over the long term.
The Don'ts of Networking:
(1) Don't Be A "Wayward Networker": Networking isn't a one off game. The most common mistake that individuals make is to only network when they need to. These "wayward networkers" are the most aggravating type of networkers due to the fact that they don't realize (a) networking is about building long term value and (b) about being top of mind while providing value.
Every consummate networker knows the "wayward networker." They have most aspects of their pitch down (e.g. value proposition, execution, etc.) and they take the first critical steps to build the initial connections. What they fail at though is once they have built the first tenuous link, these "wayward networkers" disappear until they need something again.
What these "wayward networkers" fail to realize is that their behaviour not only is the antithesis to the principles of networking but hardens the receptiveness and openness of networkers for others. By pulling the networking equivalent of a "dine and dash," a networker becomes more cynical and less willing to help others thus increasing the barriers that future networkers must overcome to develop the proper networking relationships.
(2) Don't Try And Sell A Product Or Service: The consummate networker knows that selling a product or service while networking is the worst possible approach. Selling a product or service while networking has the feeling of being an unwilling participant in a holiday timeshare presentation. Selling a product or service while networking turns most people off and makes people believe that they are the equivalent of spam for their network.
(3) Don't Communicate For The Sake of Communicating. Make Sure There Is Value: Valuable communications are those that add value to an individual's personal or professional lives. This communications could be anywhere from forwarding a link for a relevant event to making introductions to individuals who are relevant personal or professional connections. It does not mean sending generic holiday greetings that clog a networker's inbox needlessly.
The preceding guidelines were not mean to be exhaustive but to help prevent networkers from making some basic mistakes that prevent them from successfully networking.
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