It doesn’t matter how great your ideas are, how driven you are, how much money you have to invest or even what your track record is; your next venture, deal or project will only be as good as the people involved.
For many, ‘networking’ conjures up images of awkward forced rooms full of sweaty-palmed sales people playing an elaborate game of collecting business cards. For many more, the world of networking seems like a never-ending barrage of events invitation emails with speakers, coaches, mentors and more.
The truth is that the world of networking can match (and exceed) all of these stereotypes, but with the right strategic approach, you can navigate this world and turn it into one of the most powerful tools you have .
Why Networking Matters
Reid Hoffman, the founder of Linkedin once noted that, “One of the challenges in networking is everybody thinks it’s making cold calls to strangers. Actually, it’s the people who already have strong trust relationships with you, who know you’re dedicated, smart, a team player, who can help you.”
This is critical. Networking, in essence is about fostering those strong personal relationships with diverse people (within and outside your industry) who get to know you, your capabilities, and who form part of the ‘team’ you carry around and can draw-on.
How can this help you? In my own journey, a strong network has helped me in raising funds for new ventures, finding the best new recruits and even opened the door to some of the most amazing opportunities!
Blending Digital & Reality
Very few people now have businesses that are isolated to their city, or even their country- so blending digital and real-world networking matters, this means making you’re not only present on things like LinkedIn; but also that your profile looks great, is up-to-date, and matches the information you give people on your card! You’re a brand in your own right now…
Hi There… (and hello again!)
For many, opening those initial conversations can be hard. In truth, it’s probably the easiest part of the process! Ultimately, whilst the environments of networking can be quite artificial- you’re just dealing with people- human beings, with likes, dislikes, interests, passions and opinions.
One of the most important pieces of advice I could give you is to keep the conversation casual, inquisitive and authentic. Casual means keep it light, don’t try and get too deep or specific! Inquisitive means don’t keep talking about you! Ask people about themselves, their lives, their career, get to know them! Authentic means be real, don’t try and force a networking persona on yourself, just be relaxed and be your natural self.
In most networking environments, people are there with an open mind – so even if you approach a group, going in with a simple, “hello!” can be enough to spark some conversations.
Opening the conversation and exchanging cards (or connections) is fine, but the really important thing is to follow-up. Maybe you agree to meet at another event, or grab a coffee, or even arrange a call or a skype…. but either way, you have to remember that the strength of human connections is built on rapport, and that only comes once you get to know someone over time!
Top Tip: Unless you’re particularly gifted, there is a good chance you won’t remember all the people you meet at an event. I try and make sure that I connect with people on Linkedin as soon as I can after the event, and for contacts I want to follow-up with, I make sure that in the notes field of my contacts application I write as much as I can remember about them and what made them memorable for me. It also gives you a great opener for your next conversation, “It was great to meet you at the XYZ event, did you make it to the game you talked about? How was it?” much better than, “Thanks for giving me your card, can I send you our most recent brochure?
There’s an adage, “you don’t ask? You don’t get!” And in the curious world of humans, this applies more than you’d expect. You’d be astonished at how many people kick themselves after an event not having secured the contact they wanted to, or speaking to the person they had aimed for. In truth, this came down to not being bold enough.
It’s inevitable that the key people in a room- the speaker, the prominent entrepreneurs, the key connectors will be in-demand- but those are the same people who also most enjoy seeing new faces. Even if you just grab a second to complement them on their talk, on the event, or to hand them your card- it’s an opportunity. Twitter and LinkedIn are also great ways to do this!
The publication you’re reading now reaches almost 800,000 people per month and you’d be surprised at how few readers are bold-enough to reach-out to the columnists and team to say hello and perhaps build a network!
In the spirit of being open, my linkedin profile is https://uk.linkedin.com/in/vikasshahlinkedin and my twitter handle is @MrVikas – so if you feel bold and fancy reaching out? Please do!
Your Tribe Needs You
Networking groups themselves are communities, and as with any other community- you get out of it what you contribute. If you show up sometimes, sit in the audience and leave- chances are, you’ll waste your money.
To get the most out of networking, get involved! Get to know the people who run the network, meet them, talk to them, ask how you can get involved, attend often and be vocal. Don’t just ask either, try and see how you can contribute to the ecosystem you’re joining – this may be bringing your friends and associates, it may even be you giving a talk or a workshop (which isn’t as scary as you might think).
For online networks, the same applies. You cant’ just lurk in the background- you need to be part of the conversation on discussion forums, in the LinkedIn groups – wherever they have presence.
Love it or hate it, we live in a furiously competitive world- and being just another face in the crowd simply won’t help you get ahead.
As the adage goes, it’s not what you know…