Recently, I facilitated a meeting for a new client and I loved every minute of it. The organization’s mission resonates with me. The employees are smart, dedicated, positive, and working on projects that improve peoples’ lives. Like many speaking, consulting, or coaching gigs, this opportunity originated through networking, with a thoughtful colleague’s recommendation.
It is ordinary enough to meet potential clients or friends through one’s network, but when I consider the breadth, depth, and value of my connections, I am amazed and filled with gratitude. I am not referring to finding old high school or college buddies via popular social networking sites, although that has been interesting and fun. I’m thinking about people I am fortunate to know because someone suggested “you should meet, call, or e-mail Julie.” I’m thinking about others I tracked down because I felt strongly about their contributions as authors, teachers, leaders, and human beings.
I am not reluctant to approach those with whom I sense rapport, no matter how busy or “important” they may be. If I am enthusiastic about someone’s work, and believe I may support it, he or she is likely to hear from me. When I realize someone has expertise I lack, and might be willing to help me, I ask for it. More often than not, these practices have led to rich professional and personal relationships.
I’m discriminating about my network, which doesn’t make me popular among those who “friend” or link with anyone they’ve ever known (or, with people they’ve never met). When I connect or re-connect with someone, I am mindful: I think about whether I know (want to know), like, admire and respect the person. Would I recommend him? Did I enjoy her friendship and/or working with her? If we have not met, do I appreciate and endorse this person’s work? This approach to networking has served me — and others — well.
Here are more suggestions about networking, based on lots of experience:
• Approach networking from a relational, holistic perspective. Make connections based on your values, natural attraction, an open, curious attitude, and your willingness to help the other person. Don’t approach it as a goal-based, transactional, self-promoting process leading to a “sale.”
• Invest in relationships with supportive people who offer contagious, positive energy. Make a list of important, influential, or helpful people in your life (past and present). Make another list of those you would like to know!
• Use social networking technology and tools with discernment.
• Nurture and cultivate your network. Be a good steward and care for relationships as you would for a pet, garden, or anything important to you. Good relationships are based on trust and commitment. They require time, energy and patience. Don’t ignore, neglect or fail to encourage those in your community.
• Have a plan for mingling at social or business functions. Know your priorities; listen, learn and trust your gut to determine if there is a genuine rapport and connection. Be gracious, but don’t waste time talking to people who are negative, draining, or self-absorbed.
• Be memorable; use a personal, creative approach in every encounter.
• Present yourself as a credible, competent professional and a caring human being. Use appropriate nonverbal communication and good manners to make a positive impression (smile, eye contact, handshake, attentive listening, etc.). Don’t be superficial, self-focused, and oblivious to how you come across. If in doubt, seek feedback!
• Communicate your intention, goals and value(s) in a clear manner. Be concise, focused, confident, enthusiastic, and authentic in presenting your offer, product or service.
• Carry business cards with you. Distribute them wisely, and use others’ cards to track your network. Beware of poorly designed cards that imply a lack of professionalism (missing contact information, goofy artwork, etc.)
• Volunteer to share your expertise/services with non-profit organizations or causes that resonate with you. Know when to say, “No, thank you.” Don’t agree to do things for which you have little enthusiasm, just because “it might lead to new business.”
• Follow up in a personal manner that demonstrates gratitude and integrity. Send hand-written thank-you notes. Keep your promises. Have faith that what you give will come back to you, and that authentic, mindful networking is a win-win opportunity!