I had the opportunity this week to speak to the Young Professional’s Group of the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Marketing Association. The topic was on networking and mentoring.
I think the word “networking” is definitely an over-used term and doesn’t do justice to the actions necessary to build a group of people who support and promote you. Networking, at it’s finest, is nothing more than building relationships. Networking is not an event – it is a chosen lifestyle!
Building your support group should never center around an event. Many people believe that showing up at an event, meeting as many people as possible and handing out stacks of business cards is the way to build an effective network. It is not. These are the same people, that the entire time you are talking to them, they are scanning the room to see if someone more important has arrived. Not a good way to build relationships.
No one will likely do business with you, or refer you to others, until they know, like and trust you. That takes time. Building relationships takes time. So, you must decide if you are willing to spend the time necessary to meet people, find out their interests, help them get what they need, stay in contact, keep commitments and all of the other activities that go along with building relationships.
If you are new to the business world, or just realizing that having a network is important, there are some things you can do to get moving:
- Join a group, organization or association that interests you.
- Join a committee within that new group and add value.
- Volunteer to help and then keep that commitment.
- Work in the best interest of the committee and the organization. Keep your personal agenda to yourself.
Those 4 activities are a quick way for people to get to know you. To see that you work hard, willingly give of your time and expertise, keep commitments and are not focused on yourself. That goes a long way to building like and trust.
If you are at a meeting, event or anywhere else – including the grocery store, airport or a doctor’s waiting room – be open to talking with people. Find out about them, their career, their current organization and anything else they are willing to share. Get their business card and then don’t go back to the office and wait for them to call you. Be proactive.
Some ways to be proactive are:
- Send an email saying how much you enjoyed meeting them.
- Suggest meeting for coffee to learn more about each other.
- If they need help, reach out and help.
- After you meet for coffee, send a handwritten thank you note for the time they spent with you.
- If an event is coming up that you think they’d enjoy, suggest meeting them there.
As you can see, building your professional network is the same as developing a personal friendship. This is why I think networking is a way of life. Building relationships is not something you just do at a Chamber of Commerce meeting – it’s a part of your everyday life.
Granted some people are better at reaching out than others. Our world is composed of introverts and extroverts. If you are an extrovert, building relationships is probably easier for you. If you’re an introvert, it’s more difficult. But since the fabric of our lives is strengthened by those in our lives, it is worth the effort to overcome your shyness or lack of confidence. Sometimes that just takes practice.
I highly recommend the book, “How To Work A Room” by Susan RoAne. It is full of ideas and suggestions that can help anyone improve the skills necessary to build a life full of valuable relationships.
I may have a career that pigeon-holes me as a Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky printing company owner, but as technology has changed, so have we. And, that change was made easier by the people who I have built relationships with. There is value in extending yourself to others.