heard it before, but networking really is very important to success.
The value of a network can be seen from a professional standpoint—potential
customers, strategic partners and free marketing and publicity.
But don’t forget the more human side of networking -- camaraderie,
peers to share lively discussions and ideas with and people that
can give you advice and a shoulder to cry on.
network is the group of people that you know. And by “know,” I
mean someone that has a tangible connection to you. Just because
you shook hands with the Pope doesn’t mean that he’s in your network.
On the other hand, if you and the Pope are on a first name basis,
all start with our own personal network of family, friends, co-workers
and classmates. Since we all already have a network to begin with,
the idea behind networking is to make an active effort in expanding
that network. There are many ways to do this. The most common
way is to spend more time with the people that you already know,
and to get to know some of their friends and family. Another way
is to get out of the house and participate in activities and organizations
in the community—professional, religious, social, athletic, etc.
In the age of the Internet, you can even network from the comfort
of your own home, through e-mail, websites, chat rooms and online
activities. Who knows, maybe the person you’re shooting down in
that Quake 3 deathmatch video game will be your next customer.
OK, maybe not.
Not Just Quantity
a lot more to networking than mere expansion. There’s also the
importance of building quality links, and focusing on the links
that are important to you. Indiscriminate networking will simply
bog you down, and may result in a lot of leads that are uncomfortable
or even damaging. For example, a connection that ends up becoming
a stalker is clearly not a good networking connection.
of all, you need to decide why you want to network, and what you
hope to accomplish. Are you looking for customers? Job leads?
Friends? Something else? Focus your efforts in those directions.
Sure, random connections may lead to unexpected successes, but
it’s like drilling for oil. You may luck out by drilling anywhere
and everywhere, but your odds will be better if you drill where
the geologist tells you the oil deposits are.
example, let’s say that you’re an import-export business that
trades with Jamaica. You can ask your friends and colleagues if
they have any acquaintances in Jamaica or in import-export. You
can beef up your general corporate contacts by participating in
local business and chamber of commerce organizations. And by participating
in community organizations serving the needs of Jamaican nationals
and Jamaican Americans, you may turn up some other connections
to this island nation.
also need to strengthen the quality of the connections that are
important to you. No one likes to feel like they’re only being
“used.” Simply having a name and address in your Rolodex doesn’t
mean that that person will instantly want to help you in the future.
Networking is more than just collecting business cards like baseball
a positive attitude about networking. A friend of mine hated
cocktail parties, and always complained that she never got
anything out of them. If you walk in assuming you’re going
to hate it from the get go, it’s no surprise that the evening
will be a bust. But if you’re in a pleasant mindset instead,
you’re more likely to be received as a pleasant person by
all those around you.
you meet new contacts, try to get to know them. What do they
do, and what is important to them? While some people like
to talk about themselves, remember that others don’t, and
a constant stream of questions may be annoying or intrusive
to some. Back and forth—some questions, some answers—is the
best way to go if you can manage it.
you meet someone, make sure to follow up if you want to keep
the connection. You can’t just call up someone out of the
blue that you met three years ago and expect them to remember
you. At least zip off a quick followup e-mail. And the more
traditional method of keeping in touch in through followup
telephone calls and thank you letters have become so much
more meaningful in today’s digital era.
in touch regularly. This isn’t too hard if you only have a
few contacts, but it’s a lot harder if you know a lot of folks.
But We’ll talk more about in the next column.
is a two way street. If you help someone, they’re more likely
to be willing to help you in the future. If all you do is
take advantage of your contacts, they’ll rightly get tired
of it and cut you off.
warning: Don’t be a pest. If someone doesn’t want to be a
part of your network, repeated inquiries won’t make them want
to join. They’ll just sic the police on you, and you may develop
a bad reputation in their social circles. Spend your precious
time more profitably elsewhere.
Time: Secrets of High Volume Networking