The word ‘networking’ fills me with dread. It conjures up images of a room full of people in suits, nodding and making idle chit chat, all in the hopes of somehow drumming up new business or career opportunities.
As an introvert I find that vision of networking makes me break out into hives. There is nothing worse than standing about, chatting about the weather, twirling a cocktail stick of sweaty looking cheese in one hand, sipping from a glass of warm (non-bubbly) bubbles in the other. In my corporate career I recall events I would make an average of ten trips to the bathroom just to kill time, looking at the time every 5 minutes, figuring out when I could leave without appearing completely rude.
The problem is this:
One of the single most important steps to excelling in your professional life is having solid relationships. The willingness to strengthen and maintain the ones you have and the ability to form new ones.
Most high achievers are excellent at working hard and getting the job done. We can hide behind our laptops ‘working’ but no amount of researching, strategising, analysing and over-thinking is going to get you real results in your professional life. You to take real action. Real action is the only way to drive real results.
The truth is this:
No one is coming to save you and take your business or career to the next level for you. No one can read your mind.
No one knows intentions, your hopes and dreams.
The solution is simply to:
Get out there. Speak to people. Make connections. Build relationships. Build
So how do you do this without the pain of standing about at networking
What you need is my simple 2 step process I call ‘Cheese-free
In my system there is no cheesy chit chat, no cheese and wine, no cheese platters, no skewered cheese. You get the picture.
Most of us put off our relationship building part of our careers and businesses because it can often be easier to isolate ourselves, working harder and harder at something to be recognised as a master of our craft, completing neglecting our professional relationships as we go. We think if we work harder somehow new opportunities will just appear in front of us.
As Brain Coach Jim Kwik says: “Knowledge needs action to have any power”. Of course you need to do the work but you also need to to take action.
When you take action and to connect with people authentically you will:
Learn from others
Learn about others
Create the opportunity for someone to help you. When you tell people what you are working on or want to achieve it means they have the chance to help you. Or refer you to someone who can. Open up opportunities for you to help others. When you have an intention to serve and help others, you strengthen relationships further and the relationship become genuinely reciprocal. Meet interesting people you would not have met otherwise and a whole host
of business opportunities that you would never have discovered may open to you.
Learn about career opportunities that have not been posted on job boards. With the process of automation these days, getting traction through online applications can leave you disheartened and frustrated. Getting out there and speaking to people is key to finding the best next move for you in your career.
Here are some of my ‘cheese-free’ networking tips:
Start with the spirit of service, not self. Relationships are not transactional. It is not about what you can get out of something. You will connect best with
others when you look for ways to support them. Carry this spirit of service into
all your communications.
Stay curious. Listen more than you speak. Ask intelligent questions. Learn
about others. Learn about what they do.
Before all meetings/discussions prepare, prepare and prepare again. You
know the old adage: you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.
Look for mentors and make yourself available to mentees. Some of my
strongest relationships are my mentees who have since gone on to do great
things. I regularly reach out to them for their thoughts and advice. Many of my
coaches and mentors now ask me for my views and for my support.
There are 2 aspects to ‘cheese-free’ networking.
The people in your immediate network; and
Those that you would like to connect with/or meet but do not know.
Follow these simple steps:
Write down the top 10-20 people in your ‘inner-circle’. Who are the 10-20 people that you respect, have a relationship with, that you can reach out to fairly easily? These could be people from various stages of your life and career. Write them down in one column.
In a second column make a note of when you last spoke to those top 10-20 contacts. Aim to keep in touch with all of them regularly. Keep this table updated and check it every 2 weeks to see where you are neglecting your closest relationships. Set up coffee catch ups, send emails or make a call to touch base.
It may sound unnatural but when you see how and where you are neglecting your relationships, it is really useful to reach out and see where you can be of service to others. You do not want to wait for when you have a crisis and need others’ help to contact your network. Like any friendships, professional relationships require nourishment. They need your time and attention. Brainstorm a list of at least 10 people you would like to meet or connect with.
Do your research. Learn about them and what they do.
See who in your network may know them. See where you may have commonality.
Once you have done all your prep work then reach out via a short and well crafted email. Do not make the email about you, show you have done your research and do not make demands.
When people in your ‘inner circle’ refer you to people in their network that this is when the magic happens. It is in that 1 or 2 degrees away from you, that new business and career opportunities arise.
Don’t network, connect:
In my personal experience if you put yourself out there, express your intentions clearly, then most people are keen to help you achieve your goals. And if they aren’t willing or able to help, at the very least they usually move out of your way and let you continue on your path. So what real reason is there to not get out there and speak to people?
So, go ahead, open a notebook, open a spreadsheet. Whatever works for you. But either way, start to document your close and trusted relationships and at the begin by nurturing those. After all, much of the purpose andfulfilment in your professional life will come from strengthening the relationships you have and forming new lasting connections.