I have always found it easy to speak before a crowd, but I’ve always been a little bit on the shy side when it comes to one-on-one meetings with strangers.
It’s funny that I never really saw the value of effective networking when I was in Human Resources. As a startup owner though, I gradually found out how extremely critical it was to network effectively. Clients, suppliers, co-startup founders, mentors, friends, advice-mongers – you name it, I’ve found them all in networking.
We all know the cliché, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I used to scoff at this when I started working, having the image of a social butterfly in mind. I have discovered though, that it’s not like that at all. To be effective in business you NEED to have a good network.
The following tips are from my own personal experience on how to grow a network effectively.
1) Forget the “user” paradigm
This was my first hurdle – it was psychological. I had to get rid of the notion that I was trying to get to know a person because I wanted to “use” the other party. Of course, it’s partly true. The thing to remember is, it’s a two-edged sword. Yes, you want something from the person, but you are also trying to offer something of value to the other party. If establishing a great business relationship could be mutually exclusive to both of you, then why not?
I have always found that LinkedIn is miles away from Facebook when it comes to business networking. Isn’t it much easier to invite strangers (or accept invitations from strangers) than doing the same thing in Facebook? It’s because LinkedIn is an accepted business tool for networking with strangers. Three important things to remember in LinkedIn:
A) Reflect your accomplishments
LinkedIn is wonderful because it’s essentially your online resume – so when people visit your page, they know exactly what sort of value you can give them. Don’t give them a hard time guessing what you do. Say it straight. Use 2nd person. (3rd person sounds a bit too Lebron James) You’d be surprised at how many people will reach out to you through the social network once you’ve established your expertise.
B) Be a person
When inviting people, say something like:
“Hi, my name is Peter. A goal of mine is to network with great people in the industry, so I hope you don’t mind this humble invitation to connect. It’s my hope that you find some value in my own profile. Cheers!”
instead of the robotic template “I’d like to add you to my professional network – Peter Paul V. Cauton”
C) Above all, do not spam!
3) Think of quality AND quantity.
I’ve always been told something like, “10 quality contacts is better than 100 informal acquaintances.” Agreed. For sure.
You know what trumps 10 quality contacts, though?
100 quality contacts. 500 quality contacts trumps a hundred, too.
Yes, quality contacts are crucial, but with the advent of the internet and mobile tools, you can now establish and maintain a wider network of quality contacts.
How exactly do you get to that many quality contacts? Here’s a very important paradigm to take:
4) Be a conscious networker
This is a very important tip, and it’s helped my networking a lot. Networking needs to be a choice – something you allot a specific time of the week for. For example, I have one hour in a week dedicated to just finding good contacts to network with in LinkedIn – so I easily add 10-15 people in my network through this. Also, every week, I resolve to have at least one opportunity-seeking coffee talk. I usually ask old friends if we can have coffee, or someone I’ve had online exchanges with, or even a current client. These meetings can usually mean the start of an acquaintance becoming a “quality contact.”
Pay for the coffee. It’s worth it.
I’ve paid Starbucks a small fortune over the past few years. In fact, I was mildly amazed that last Wednesday, I was in three Starbucks shops (and ordered each time) in a span of 5 hours. Yes, the expenses creep up a bit, but when I think of it, ALL my ventures in the last 4-5 years started in a coffee shop. It’s all worth it.
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