I never thought I would write a post about networking. Although I might not have said it, in my mind networking meant shallow small talk and I often saw it as a self-promoting activity to boost the ego. I do not have much time over for that and I am not comfortable calling attention to myself.
But over the last year especially, I have had to change my mind about networking. Since I started standing on my own feet as self-employed I have had re-evaluate much about myself, including the need for a strong and wide network. Thanks to this, I have looked back through my career and noticed people that has been good at networking in a way that does not feel shallow or self-promoting.
I think at its very core came a realisation that I can in fact not stand on my own, a realisation that in order to do well I need to allow myself to be co-dependent on others. I need to carry others and sometime be carried by someone else. For me, keeping my network alive is about building authentic relationships based on trust and mutual understanding. There are of course several ways of doing this but here are what I have found works well for me.
Most of my networking are done one on one
I prefer to do most of my networking one on one. This is because I feel this is the best way to connect with the person beyond the small talk and the normal courtesies. To build a relationship based on trust and mutual understanding you need to invest time in that person and I find I have the best possibilities to do that one on one.
Keep an ongoing dialogue
The neuropsychologist Donald O. Hebb said in 1949: “Neutrons that fire together wire together”. The idea is that the more a neurological path is being used, the stronger it will become. This also apply to your network. You want to keep an ongoing dialogue with people in your network to strengthen the connections.
I am trying to keep my network alive by going out for lunch or coffee with people. I have to eat so why not do it with someone in my network? But this is not the only way to stay connected. You can also send a text or give them a phone call sometimes. Go out of your way to remember their birthdays or a milestone that they have working towards. The important thing is to let them know that you are thinking of them.
This is one of the most important lessons that I have learnt about networking and one that I have appreciated most when others have done towards me; being generous with their network. I have really appreciated when I have been introduced to others through a common connection or the times I have benefitted from people sharing their experience and knowledge. I have appreciated the books and articles that I got given or had the chance the borrow addressing a particular issue I am wondering or struggling about. I have taken this principle on board and keep my own network open to others and share things I read if I believe it is beneficial for them.
Being good at introducing people in your network to each other is an important skill that you should take some time to cultivate. Before you make an introduction make sure it is relevant. Respect your connection’s time and do not just introduce people for the smallest reasons. You introduce people to each other for their benefit and not so that you can impress. Help them to connect by giving a short introduction to them both. Make it a positive one! Finally, give them a chance to connect by pointing them in a direction where they can continue the conversation without you.
It is easy to become comfortable but when it comes to our personal network it is worth stepping out of our comfort zone and reach out and meet new people. This can be as drastically as changing jobs. It can also be to join a club that interest you or go to a meet up with likeminded. My curiosity for a company or organisation has sometimes pushed me to invite myself over for a cup of coffee to listen to what they are doing. But also looking through your network if someone can introduce you to someone that you would like to get to know better can be a way to reach out and widen your network.
Be a thought leader
Reaching out can be a really good way to widen your network and keeping it alive but sometimes it is even more effective to let people come to you. Again, there are many ways to this but being a thought leader within your industry or within something that interest you is a good way. Sharing your knowledge, experience and vision within that area will encourage people to connect with you and deepen your existing relationships. You can do this by speaking at public events, post content online or give in depth answers at forums and discussion boards, just to mention a few.
So how do you keep your network alive? Please share what you are doing and what you think is helpful in order to keep your network alive.