As someone who has spent her career networking, teaches workshops on intentional networking, and is considered to have a dynamic and rich set of influential contacts, I can tell you there are some things about networking you probably didn’t know.
Networking is relationship building. It is a strategic and intentional part of your professional growth and career success. There are two kinds of networking: in person and online. Both forms of networking are important, and they follow similar rules and protocols.
Networking is so much more than reciprocity, business cards, and CRM tools to remind you to stay in touch. The art of building mutually beneficial and rewarding professional relationships means you show up authentically, ask for help, offer yourself as a resource, and much more. Here are three secrets to building a successful network that no one probably told you about:
1. Your networking contacts want you to make it easy to help you.
It’s one thing to ask someone in your network to introduce you to a contact of theirs, it’s another if they agree and you provide text for that intro email. Often, when someone agrees to help you, they are then at a loss for how to make that introduction. What should they say about you? How do you want to be positioned?
Since this blog focuses on personal branding, and networking is a key personal branding strategy, you need to be in control of how, where, and why your contacts help you. Here are two examples of how you can make it easy for your contacts to help you:
- If you ask for a recommendation on LinkedIn, offer to write some sample text. Sometimes our contacts aren’t sure where to go with the recommendation or what to focus on. Then, highlight the words, phrases, and terms you are promoting as part of your personal branding and reputation strategy. For instance, instead of “great public speaker,” I might ask for a recommendation that states, “engaging trainer on reputation management and personal branding,” since I want my keywords included.
- When asking for an introduction to a professional colleague, make it clear why that introduction would be valuable, how you intend to follow up (phone, email), and what you are hoping to gain (informational interview, meeting, phone call, additional insights). Be clear about who you are, what you offer, and why you identified this contact as valuable to you.
2. Your contacts want to hear from you.
You are not bothering those who signed up to help you by reaching out with updates, additional questions, and celebrations. If someone in your network helps you gain a connection or new job or coaches you through a situation, they feel vested in the outcome. This means when they don’t hear from you – did you get the job? How’s it going? What pieces of the advice I gave you are working? What do you still struggle with? – then it feels very unsatisfying.
You are not burdening your network by letting them know how you are. Here are a few times to reach back out to those who helped you:
- You got a promotion
- You landed the job
- You’ve been on the job for six months and are starting to feel comfortable there
- The connection they referred you to turned into a coffee meeting and a possible work relationship down the road
- You still struggle with the issues you sought their advice on.
- You feel overwhelmed with gratitude and need to tell someone
- You have a colleague who benefitted from your coaching or mentoring
- You need a pep talk
3. People in your network will tell you how they can help you…if you just listen.
A few years ago I had just finished teaching a veteran transition workshop in Virginia. My topic was strategic networking in the civilian workplace. I stressed and reiterated the point that when you are talking to others – new acquaintances or established networking contacts – they will tell you how they can help you.
After my program, I spoke with a veteran entrepreneur who excitedly told me about his plans to open a for-profit business to help former military learn about farming and agriculture. For a solid ten minutes (no break), he talked about his business plan, his strategy, the importance of people connecting with the earth, his passion for helping veterans, why natural resources were in danger or extinction…. And so on.
When he finally did take a breath, I jumped in, “That’s great! Many of my clients are investors in sustainability projects such as yours…” and then he cut me off to continue… He droned on about depletion of the soil, toxicity of grocery store produce, and so on.
He missed a golden nugget! Had he paid attention to what I said, he would have realized I could have been a great conduit to various funding sources for him. Instead, he kept talking and talking and talking. Missed opportunity!
As Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, puts it: “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.” Your networking strategy should always highlight your value to the person with whom you are connecting.