When you hear networking do you slightly cringe? Do you view networking as something you HAVE to do rather than WANT to do? Do you debate the merits of the networking, not sure when any of it will all pay off?
If you are having these feelings it is likely because you are networking all wrong. I’ve been feverishly networking over the past five years and through processes of trial and error, following power networkers, and reading far too many self-help books I’ve learned quite a bit. I’ve also have been able to turn networking into a wildly good time; I actually look forward to it. I’ve also have been noticing the success a well formed network can bring. So get up off the couch, wipe the remnants of Pringles off your shirt, turn off How I Met Your Mother and lets start building your future. Here are five things I’ve learned over the years that will help:
1. Only maintain relationships that you enjoy
If you take away one thing from this article this is it. I made the mistake early on to network and spend my time with people that I did enjoy spending time with. These people were twice my age and if I had an extra hour after work, I wouldn’t call them in a million years to grab a leisurely beer. I thought that to be successful I have to spend my time with any person that is successful and can throw me some business. No. Bad Eric. Now I am very selective in my network. Here is a good test- can you imagine grabbing a beer for fun with this new shlub? If not, politely move on. Business is generated between friends and people who enjoy and trust each other. Be selective.
2. Maintain a list of your network / quantify it / manage it
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point (must read for networkers) he writes about Winston Churchill who is considered a connector (i.e. power networker). He was rumored to have known thousands of people on a first name basis around the world. Whenever he met someone new he’d write down their name in a journal, scratch down a quick blub about that them, and jot their home number. Whenever Churchill visited a town he’d flip open his handy journal, find people in the area, pick the ones he wanted to catch up with and gave them a ring. Even though he saw people once, maybe twice a year, you can imagine the meaningful relationships that developed between Churchill and his thousands.
I maintain an excel worksheet with a list of all the contacts I meet which includes information about them and the last time we were in contact. The list is tiered basically between people I like and people I do not like (e.g. body odor, pretentious, chews with mouth open). Having this list helps me see how wide my network is and is a helpful reminder of how behind I am in keeping in touch. If you want to create a large, meaningful network you need a system to track it all.
3. Touch base, a lot.
Now that you have a list of important people, all of which you enjoy spending time with, you have to make sure to stay in touch. You should be connecting with those you consider important once a month or once every other month. If you want referrals to come your way it is NOT going to happen from a weak relationship you have with someone you talk to once a year. Here are some helpful hints to keep in touch with your ever expanding networking empire.
a) You don’t need a reason to reach out. Send a quick email asking how things are going.
b) Grab a coffee before work. Grab a quick lunch during work.
c) Send them an article or something that reminds you of them via email.
d) Grab a beer after work. Invite as many people from your network as possible and introduce people within your network to one another.
If you want to build a business-generating-network and have a great time while doing it, the above should help. I will discuss other tips and tricks in subsequent blog posts. Happy networking and remember- stop networking with shlubs – life is too short.