Networking. You either love it or hate it, but ultimately, how you feel about it doesn’t matter because it’s necessary.
Whether you’re looking to build a career in employment or as an entrepreneur, building your network is a must.
It’s easy to get into networking when the need comes up. I remember when I decided that I wanted to become a professional life coach and an entrepreneur by starting my own practice. I was employed at the time, but I was eager to do whatever I could to make things happen.
Because I was starting from scratch (I had zero entrepreneurial endeavours before then, no proverbial toe in the water whatsoever), I was eager to meet people – people who knew more about business, people who could become clients or knew others who could, all sorts of people who could get me to where I wanted to be much more quickly. There was a need, so it was easy.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit that in the last few months, my networking efforts had become nonexistent. My business is doing well, I’ve been having a steady stream of clients, I’m developing my online presence and assets, there’s money in the bank, and to top it all off, I’m coaching from home. With so much to do to maintain business, there was no need for me to carve out time to network, to meet new colleagues and catch up with old ones – or so I thought.
When I attended Dent’s London Brand Accelerator last month, however, I got a pretty timely reminder. If you’re familiar with Daniel Priestley’s book Key Person of Influence and their accelerator of the same name, you’ll know that Partnership is one of the five steps to help your business stand out, scale up and attract great people. At the London Brand Accelerator, their Partnership mentor Julia Langkraehr said something that struck a chord: “Build your network before you need it.” It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard Julia emphasise the importance of building your network. So why had I ever stopped? It made me realise I needed to pick the habit up again, and I did.
These last few weeks, I’ve been reconnecting with people I haven’t met with in a while, and finally had those meetings that were months overdue. I’ve also been reaching out to my online network so I could finally meet with them face to face. I went into these meetups with a different mindset. I wasn’t focused on what it could immediately mean for me or my business, and instead focused on what I could learn and what value I could offer them, whether that’s an introduction, a recommendation or a service. The amazing thing is, it has brought me so much value anyway. Aside from the shout-outs and introductions, I particularly appreciate that I had a great conversation with someone I had met with last week, and he helped me get unstuck about something I’d been needing clarity on for months.
If you’re serious about what you’d like to achieve, take Julia’s words to heart. Build your network before you need it. If you’re open-minded about it, and get into it with the right mindset, here are some benefits you can get out of it:
When you take the time to meet with people, you have the opportunity to show them how passionate you are about what you do and how good you are at it. If you make a good impression and nurture that relationship, you will come to mind when they (or others they know) need your service.
There’s nothing like hashing your ideas out with someone else who isn’t you. The truth is, sometimes our “great” ideas are actually not that great, but we can be blinded to that by our own bias. Talking with different people can help us reach a version of our ideas that we can actually implement realistically. Alternatively, when we’re all out of ideas, meeting with the right people is a sure way to walk away with more ideas than we started the conversation with.
Even if all you do is catch up with people to get to know what they’re up to and how they’re doing, you can walk away with some form of value that you can then offer to others later on. Sure, maybe you don’t need a fashion designer yourself, but someone you meet with in a week’s time might. It’s rewarding to be able to connect people who can do great things together – and all you would’ve had to do was have coffee!
Now, this is all well and good, but the key to being a good networker is to have the right attitude and mindset, or else you risk having it backfire on you. Here are some key things to remember:
Don’t get into meetings focused on what you can get out of it. When you’re meeting with a potential client, you aim to add value by truly listening to what they need and offering your best ideas to try to seal the deal. The same should apply even if it’s not a potential client. Listen to the other person, so you can then offer to make the right introduction or shout-out. They’ll be more likely to help you out when you need it later on.
As with anything, the power of networking can be made more effective with the right habits. For example, make it a habit to send that person an email the same day or that very evening. Or when you attend an event, make it a habit to gather all the business cards you collected and, within 24 hours, connect with them on LinkedIn with a personal message to remind them about what you chatted about and how you’d like to meet up with them again soon.
People will know if you are driven by your own ulterior motives, or if you’re just feeling obligated. Take networking seriously, but also have fun. People will find you more engaging and approachable – and you want to be approachable.
If you need help with building your network, consider hiring a life coach to help you with it.