Featured image by Ryoji Iwata.
One of the many skills that is needed for success in the world is networking. Our ability to create working relationships with other people, and within organisations of people, is essential for our success, not only in business but in our everyday activities.
However, networking is not something that comes naturally to everyone. I know, I for one am absolutely terrible at networking. I don’t like ‘bothering’ people and I don’t like having a list of contacts that I feel pressured to maintain. I like to do things on my own and feel the freedom of being self-reliant. However, lately I’m starting to see that I need people around me and I need people to help me.
Here’s the initial lessons I’ve learned on how to be a successful networker and how to network your way to success.
The Importance of Networking
Lately I’m starting to see that I need people around me and I need people to help me.
Firstly, living in a foreign country I rely on my native wife to help me navigate life here. I also need work and the HR department to take care of all the administrative things of being a working expat in a foreign country.
And recently, I had to fill out forms and get things certified so that I could send off to get my driver’s license renewed and have the photo updated. I couldn’t fly directly to Perth for the weekend to have the photo taken. I needed to fill out the forms and get it certified. Luckily I had a couple of people I could call on and they were able to help me within a day’s notice.
And most recently, my mother was having some issues related to property law. I know very little about the law and so this was something that caused us anxiety. However, I have an old friend who is a lawyer. One email later and he was on the case and was showing us what needed to be done and making everyone feel a lot more confident about everything.
The ability to call on these contacts really helped me to be effective and efficient in a time of need. But even still, I hated having to call on them to help.
This is because I was never taught to network. And also, my early socialisation gave me a very strong bias for self-reliance and independence.
However, these experiences have taught me that a network is something very advantageous to nurture. It helps us to expand our circle of competence and enables us to go beyond our mere capabilities by drawing on the capabilities and assistance of others.
In fact, if we want to become successful and go beyond just surviving and working in society, then we need to work out how to develop good networks of the right kind of people and organisations to help us with our own unique missions towards success.
Image by Timon Studler
Networking is essential. But it’s not something we are ever taught in schools.
Here’s the initial lessons I’ve learned on how to be a successful networker and how to network your way to success.
What is networking?
Without going to the dictionary, I think we all know what networking is. Networking is creating relationships and contacts. The essential goal is to create links to people who can help you and people who you are willing to assist in return. So, it is about creating mutually beneficial relationships.
Basically, the more people you know who can help, then the more social capital you have. You have access to people who can help you and that gives you access to more places, opportunities and gives you greater influence.
Two Views of Networking
Therefore, having this understanding, that a network is a connection of people, linked by their mutually beneficial relationships, we can have two very different views of the actual process of networking.
The traditional view of networking is the business style of finding people to network with; creating a business type arrangement for ‘helping’ each other to develop a mutually beneficial relationship. A kind of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’, and together we can get a lot more than we can on our own.
This process usually brings up images of networking events, where people put on the name-tag and pass out their business cards and go out determined to find the best contact and put on the hard sell to convince others that they are the contact they need.
Image by Jon Tyson.
There is nothing wrong with this. Effectively, networking is about finding contacts to build mutually beneficial arrangements. If that’s the way you network, then that will work for you and it is a very efficient way to build productive organisations and networks.
However, for me that conceptualisation of networking doesn’t work.
I guess it comes down to my nature, or my socialisation, but that kind of networking seems very shallow and almost mercenary. I’m not saying it’s bad. But for me, and I guess I’m not a natural business person, it seems like hard work and unnatural.
The other style:
The introvert’s guide to networking on YouTube, asks us to rethink what networking is. It argues that real networking is not those events where people go to get names and leave it at that. It’s forming genuine relationships.
It’s the process that occurs when you go about your normal life, or you go to events where things you enjoy are going on; you meet people who are like you, people who share the same ideas and interests and who you can build a genuine relationship with.
This for me sounds more genuine. It means, that you find people that you want to work with; the people you want to engage with, who are able to help you, and who you want to help. It means finding people in your life, industry, area, or people close to the people you know, people you want to work with and you actively create a link with.
Image by Helena Lopes.
This definition works best for me.
Either way, networking is about creating relationships and networks of people who can help each other and who can broaden each other’s area of concern and influence.
A little more on Why network
We have already discussed why we need to network.
But for me, and I know for many others, even with this positive idea of networking and a brief knowledge of its advantages, it seems like hard work. I’m an introvert. And it’s not like I don’t like having friends. But I feel like I have a few friends, and building and nurturing a whole chain of more ‘specialised’ friends seems like extra work. Can’t I just accept the network I have now, and make do?
And I guess the answer could be ‘yes’. I can accept what I have now – well actually, I probably still need to work on how I network with the friends I have now. But at the end of the day, life’s pretty good and I can get by fine with a great bunch of people I call friends who I can call on, and who I’m happy to help if called upon.
This could work just fine. If I’m happy with my life now.
However, if I want a bigger idea of success, a life that’s a level above the ordinary, then no. I need to expand my horizons and my capabilities. To do that I need to find mentors, I need to build a network and I need to learn how to work with and use a network to help achieve my goals.
Because, very simply, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. In a vacuum, you can’t do anything. You need to have contacts to guide you, to mentor you, to help you get what you want and you need to network with people to build your base.
On my own, I can’t build anything. For example, if I want investments, I need to have a broker. Also, my ability to find and maximise my investments is greatly affected by the contacts I have in the area of investing. If I’m a rank outsider with no contacts and no friends, I’m missing all those interesting conversations and friendly tips that help me to learn more and know how the game is played in the real world.
This is exactly the same for work, or for business, or life in general. A good mentor can show you the shortcuts. A good conversation with someone with experience can save you making a huge mistake and save you a mountain of time trying to figure it all out alone.
In this way networks, can accelerate your growth. Opportunities come your way. Also, by having people connected to the same things you’re into can offer you partnership options. You can magnify your capabilities by partnering with someone who has the skills or resources you are lacking.
Another side benefit, one I can certainly appreciate is in boosting confidence. (ALUX)
The ability to put forward your visions and actively seek help takes massive confidence. Trying to inspire others, to persuade people or furthermore lead others to accept an idea or work with you is a huge step up on being able to work hard in isolation. This boost in confidence and this habit of working collectively, openly and in collaboration are invaluable traits for the rest of your life. They are skills that help you get out and get things done.
Mike Sheppard at AskMen – says networking is a Key skill for success. Networking is more than just creating the ties to do business. Networking is about knowing your surroundings, knowing the people involved in the industry, learning how to deal with these people and how to make them comfortable and work with them. It requires overcoming awkwardness and becoming more confident. To be successful, you must learn to adapt to different people and work with people on their level.
Ultimately, success depends on people’s opinions of you. No matter how good you are in isolation, if you want to be successful, you need to be judged positively by others. If you can be judged favourably by others, then you can be successful. So, by building up these relationships, and learning how to build capital in your social profile, you work your way up to the levels were success is possible.
Image by Hieu An Tran.
Social capital, or the value we have in our network, improves career opportunities and business performance.
Studies show that your network has a huge effect on you. I think we’ve all heard some derivative of the saying “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”
Taken to the extreme the study showed that your friends can make you fat. In other words, obese friends can lead us to being obese. And building on this, your friends can make you happy. The study showed that, if your friends and their friends are happy with their life, you have a better likelihood of being happy.
So for success, you need to have a good network – one that will lead you to what you want; hopefully wealth, health and wisdom. You also need to know how to network with them effectively. This will open you up to enhancing your skills and your capabilities in the service of yourself and others. And, it will also widen your horizons of influence and your ability to reach greater heights and a wider range of possible opportunities.
Successful networking is how you build a network that will bring you success.
How to Network
Our Natural Network
To begin with, we’ll look at a very broad definition of a network and look at building our personal network. A network of people around us for all areas of our lives.
So to begin with, we’ll look at the advice of, How to Hack Networking David Burkus – TEDx University of Nervada.
To make it simple and to remove any barriers, we’re going to look simply at networking as developing helpful friendships.
If we start by looking at it in this way we can all see that we naturally make friends with certain types of people. These friendships are the people we like, the people we like to work with and we would help if they asked us for help. They should also be the people that we can rely on for help if we needed it.
Therefore, if we redefine networks as friends and friends of friends, we can start to see the natural network we already have available to us. Whether we have accessed it or not, it is there, and perhaps the best first step is to start to learn how to use that network.
This idea of reconnecting with old friends is what David Burkus calls, weak or dormant ties. He encourages us to connect with friends we don’t talk to anymore. He says it’s easier to build rapport with them. We knew them and we have a natural ‘in’ to talk to them. As they have gone on to build their own life and their own networks there is a potential ‘goldmine’ of untapped contacts that we can link to.
Image by Tyler Nix.
A New Lesson
This sounds like a good idea, and if you are in a position to take advantage of this then I suggest it’s a good idea. However, I for one was automatically resistant to the idea. Again, I believe this comes out of my socialisation towards being interdependent.
However, after I got over this initial biased point of view, I began to think a bit deeper about it. It was then that I reached out to my friend to help my mother with the legal issue. My friend’s immediate and almost joyous response to offer assistance, gave me a whole new perspective on things. My initial old introvert’s go to of, ‘I haven’t seen these people for years; they’ve moved on; they’re not in my field’ was replaced with, ‘wow, it’s so great to have an old friend to help.’ I also started to think about if I was in his situation, I’d be stoked to think I could use my expertise to help out an old friend.
It’s important to react to this bias. I need to stop taking on that old mindset. I need to seek to be courageous and open-minded. I need to accept that my initial reaction is built out of a fear of reconnecting. And my scepticism is based in fear. The truth is, I don’t know what most of those old contacts have been up to. And I don’t know who they could randomly link me too. I need to be more interested in seeking out an old friend, sharing my mission, see where they are going and see how we can help each other. This is a big challenge for me. SO my first step is to reconnect with one old friend and see how we can build a mutually beneficial relationship.
The next insight Burkus asks us to consider is to rethink work friends and consider they may become real friends. At the end of the day, we should all just be friends. Everyone is looking to get by and find some way to achieve the same needs and wants. Why do we put barriers up to people, and limit our care for each other? Because it’s ‘unprofessional’? Because it’s inconvenient? Because it’s dangerous?
Probably all three, right?
However, if we recognise that we’re all just humans and accept that everyone has different ways of seeking our shared needs and wants, then we come to see that we are all the same and we can all relate and be better off if we help each other out.
After all, that is the basis for the success of humanity. We are not the strongest or the fastest animal in the world. It is our ability to build communal relationships that give us strength. We lose that understanding in the modern competitive world we have been socialised to. However, if we can develop some empathy, we can remember that we are strongest when we work together.
If we take this on, then it is imperative that we find reasons to really connect. Now I’m the first to admit that I really suck at this, and in the past I’ve really dropped the ball. Starting at this new job I have now, I forced myself to go to social functions, but as soon as the shine wore off I ditched everything that wasn’t compulsory. I’m not a total pariah, so I did manage to develop one or two friendships with people I found like me. However, I never looked at it as an opportunity to build my network of people and create valuable relationships.
Though as I’ve gone on, especially since I started to improve my self and started this mission for success, I started to observe friends who are expert networkers. And I started to see the power that they had over me.
Lessons from Experience
I had one friend and he is literally friends with everyone. He gets involved in everything and goes out of his way to be friendly to everyone. Now that seemed like way too much effort for me, but I could see that he could call up people at a drop of the hat and they would rush to help him. He knew all the gossip and he was soon involved in the inner circle at work, and was part of all the social groups and had the first word on everything that was happening.
At first, I saw that I had a deficiency. Though as I went, I started to realise I had a contact that was linked to everything. Though as I go, I’m starting to see that I need to be a bit more open minded and sociable.
Also, I have another friend, who is actually rather less social, like myself. At least when it came to work connections. However, I saw how she was able to start up quick conversations with random people around town. She would meet people, all involved in different businesses that she just had a chance to run into. She ‘simply’ get their details, just in case one day they could be of service. And then when she decided to run an after school activity at school, she was able to ask them to come in and talk.
And just like that, she had weeks of guest speakers, experts in business, come to speak at the school.
This amazed me. She was able to have one meeting with these influential business people and then get them to come to school and talk about business. Later we even had a meeting to discuss opportunities with one of these contacts.
To me this all seemed impossible. I couldn’t believe that these people, random strangers, cared enough to give up their time. But now I can see that people like to network and it’s a valuable skill to try and develop.
Since these early lessons, I started to make a bit more of a concerted effort. I won’t lie. I’m still an introvert and I took the easy option out more than a few times. But on several occasions I forced myself to go to things like school department dinners and the end of year party, and things like that.
I found once I got over my initial trepidation of going, I actually always enjoyed my time out. I also found that people were glad I wanted to spend time with them. I used to avoid these things because I thought no one really cared if I was there. Now I know that that attitude just led others to think I didn’t like them, or that I thought I was superior to them. But now that I’ve made an effort, I see people really value it. And now those same people that I made an effort with, have been the first people to come in and offer me help in my time of need. Most notably, and recently, with the birth of my son. Without even asking, these friends came in to give advice, and to offer support and to generally be of help.
This has been a huge lesson and is only the start to my networking. Since then, the head of my department pretty much insisted I go on a development course, which will be a great opportunity to network. Furthermore, since I started to share more about myself, one of my colleagues found out that I was writing a novel. Since then, she has shown real interest in the novel and indicated that she has a relative that is a self-published author. Which may well be a great contact that I can learn from.
And so on.
What I learned:
What I finally realised was that I’m not so bad at networking. Once I saw the need for it and forced myself to try, it actually wasn’t that hard.
So the first easy steps that I recommend, along with the expert David Burkus, is to:
- Reconnect with friends – old and new – But you must actually look to build a truly mutually beneficial relationship. I’ve found that if the right intent is there, you will usually walk away finding that others are happy to be first to try and help you.
- Make work friends real friends – When you open up and treat people like human beings and give them the kind of attention and connection that you want and ultimately need, you will see you have many of the connections you will ever need already at your finger tips.
- Connect through friends of friends. We all have huge networks at our disposal. It’s probably not nice to think about it like that. But when we do think about it, we start to realise the links we have to all the truly talented and helpful people that we take for granted. If we look to connect with these people in the right way – looking to be of mutual benefit – then we all can benefit from so much talent and ability that we can achieve anything.
Engaging our Natural Networks
Now we have stretched it out and worked out who is available as a natural network, it’s time to look at how we can start to work this network – how do we actually use this network.
If you’re like me, even just this mention of ‘using a network’, using your friends, sounds terrible. However, the next bit of advice from MarieTV – YouTube, will help to change that perspective and allow you to start working your network and help you to gain experience and build your ability to network.
How to work your natural network?
By network, here we mean the verb, the actual activity of working with people to achieve your and their goals. This quite often has negative connotations, like we are conning people to do what we want, so we can get what we want; it feels somewhat corrupt.
But if we look at it in a different way, we can begin to be a networker and actually feel really good about it.
Step 1: Be Generous
Give to Get
The first piece of advice is to focus on giving rather than getting. We are not looking to use people, or to con people or manipulate them to get what we want. We are networking to develop mutually beneficial relationships that can help both parties. So start out by looking to see how we can you help others out. When we look to help others, we find the kind of people that we want to work with. And we are going out in a generous mindset that will encourage us to be more proactive. We are looking to help and therefore we should feel empowered to make contact with people. We are doing a good thing. And when we help others, we are storing up good will that we can hopefully call on in future. We are building a good reputation and building a network of people who know we are good and who want to help us. Though the impetus must be to help without necessarily seeking something in return. If we only do something to get something, then people are naturally suspicious.
Therefore, go out looking to be generous and to help others; not to get something, but to find the kind of people that deserve your help and the people that appreciate it and will reciprocate it. In this way, you go out with confidence and you build a network of many people who you have done a good deed for. When you know the people who are willing and eager to do the same in return, those are the contacts you want to hold onto.
Be Generous with Attention
The problem so many people have with networking is that they see it as fake. It’s like speed dating. They go to these networking events, meet, talk, evaluate, get the contact and then move on. There’s no relationship. No trust. And it all feels fake. But if we make it more than just getting contacts, if it’s a chance to build real relationships and a time to engage with interesting people, we have the opportunity to make real relationships.
When we try to network like this, building real relationships, we must also remember to be generous with our attention. People love attention. They, or we actually, seek attention because we have a need to be significant. And we absolutely love it when people pay attention to us. We are drawn to people who pay us attention and we commit to these kinds of relationships because they fulfil this genuine need.
Image by Stefan Cosma.
So be present. Focus on the person in front of you and really try to connect. By paying attention to the person in front of you, you are building a real connection and you are giving them the attention that they crave. They will see you as genuine and generous. You will also be attentive to the things that will help you, such as learning how they can connect you with their natural or business network.
So it’s important that you listen more than you talk. So often we feel the need to show off how great we are and show that we can make a contribution. But the true need is to create a relationship. If we give attention to people, we get to learn who they are, what they really need and create a positive impression on them that they will want to experience again, hopefully!
And remember to give attention to those contacts that are truly important. Tried and true, good old friends, and family. I for one, who am living far from home, don’t get to see my family and my good old friends at all. Well, maybe just at Christmas. But at Christmas, we make the effort. I know I have to go home to catch up with family – that contact is just too valuable to let slip.
And every now and then I’ll send the odd message to an old friend, or even just post a like on their facebook, just to show they are still on the radar and they have a friend they can call on.
Those contacts are far too valuable to let slip and they need a little bit of attention every now and then.
Step 2: Build Real Relationships
But with new contacts, attention is also vital. You need to create an initial feeling of possible friendship and potential trust. And that comes through focussed attention.
Building on this initial, positive impression, we need to think about creating a real relationship. So many networking events, or conceptions of networking, is the ‘get the card, then I can call when I need to’. That doesn’t work all too well. At least not for me. I know many people who can help me with a problem, but the thought of calling them ‘out of the blue’ and asking them seems fake and/or needy. And I don’t like that feeling.
Even worse is the feeling of someone calling ‘out of the blue’ saying: ‘Hey how you doing’ insert timewasting chit chat to cover that they don’t really know us, then ‘can I get a favour?’ We don’t like this, because we feel like we’re being used.
The Long Term Approach
So, what we should do is to network properly by considering building long term relationships.
The answer is not to look for lots of random contacts that we can call on. The idea is to build networks of genuine friendship with the people you work with and those you come in contact with on a regular basis.
These are the people that you will be able to create a lasting network with and you will be able to give them the attention and care that is needed to build a real relationship.
These are the people that when you need them you are able to call on them. And if they are in your area, your industry or in your work, or neighbourhood, then you are linked to them in a really positive way. That positive relationship will not only link them to you, but link you to their contacts. In that way, you are not calling that guy who might help ‘out of the blue’ for a favour. No, you will have a friend of a friend say, ‘this really great guy I know needs a favour, can you help him out?’
This is a much better strategy than collecting numbers of people you don’t know.
Real, long-term relationships take time. They need to be built over time and they need to feel like time is being put in to develop trust.
This is why a good local network approach is a good idea. If you interact with local people, or friends regularly, even on Facebook, and with work friends you see all the time, or people in the industry that you liaise with intermittently, then you have a chance to build something of a real relationship.
Another problem is in attracting the relationship.
You need to be aware how to build a good relationship. You want to be genuine and casual about building a relationship with people. You don’t want to kill it by being too pushy or direct.
You also don’t want to come across as too needy, or too reliant.
A long term mutually beneficial relationship should be one built on mutual interest and of respect.
So by all means, go out of your way to do a good turn for your contacts. Link them up with contacts when you see a benefit. Send them something to stay on their radar and keep up good will.
But don’t overcommit and don’t feel guilty and commit to everything. Your job is not to service your contacts. People are aware of that. The idea is to be mutually beneficial and to build good long-term relationships.
There’s no need to go out of your way to suck up and work overtime to build every relationship. At the end of the day, if you work with those who you genuinely like and who you respect and have a mutually advantageous relationship with, you will be in a pretty good position.
You Should Enjoy It
Creating relationships that you don’t enjoy and that become a drain will be a sure fire way to reduce your efficacy in networking and to diminish your enjoyment for the work you do and the relationships you have.
Ultimately, you want to be honest. Don’t make relationships you don’t want to keep up. They are fake and they are a drain on your time and resources. And don’t make false promises. They only work to cut down your reputation and ruin your social capital.
Work with people you respect and who will form a long-term beneficial relationship and you will enjoy building networks and you will enjoy the work you do and the help you will be able to offer and receive from those around you.
Step 3: Be Real
If you are looking to build good long-term relationships, then you need to follow through. This is why it is important not to overreach and try to collect contact after contact. If you want to create real links with people, then it takes follow up and action. If you just take the card and say you will do something, then nothing will become of your networking efforts.
To create real contacts, you need to communicate. Or you need to take action to create a tie to these contacts. And if you say you will do something, then you need to follow up. Even if it’s just making a phone call, you need to do it.
Also, if you have the chance to do something, a real action, then you should take action immediately. This will force you to follow through and it will mean you don’t stock up work to do later. It will also show the other person that you are a quality connection, that you value the relationship and that you get things done.
If you are really keen to create a connection, then I think it’s beneficial to find something that you can do and then do it immediately. That way you are actually creating a relationship and commit to it. If you just get a name and a number, then nothing happens. You need to create communication with your network and by starting to help each other out, you create a very positive foundation.
Interest is Important
But this all brings home the importance of being real. If you are running around doing random good deeds to hopefully create a link with someone who can help you out, then you will lack focus, you will lose direction, and at the end of the day you will most likely end up being desperate and needy.
If it’s fake, then you won’t build a real relationship.
If you don’t care, then your network will just be more work that you don’t won’t to do.
So, only go to things that excite you. This will lead to friendships not just meetups. And only go out of your way for people you like and those that deserve it. This way you will enjoy it and you will feel rewarded.
Do things in your local area, for you regular contacts, for your friends and friends of friends, and industry contacts you like, or the nice person you met who you thought was cool.
At the end of the day, we are all linked to very important people. You don’t need to go too far out of your way to find special. And if you treat the people in your current circle special, just watch all the opportunities that start to come to the surface. And wait to see who you end up getting introduces to and who just randomly comes into your life.
Networking, for me used to be a naughty word. One of those horrible business things that were hard work, were you had to go out and put on an act and be really awkward while you ask for a contact to someone that I hoped I didn’t need to need.
Now, I’m looking at it in a whole different light. For me networking now is about building a community of people that I want to work with. It’s about finding the people that I like, those that I can help and the people that give me access to all the opportunities of the world.
So, go out and do what you can for others. Ask ‘what can I do for you?’ by way of building a real and genuine relationship. When you give value and you create a great relationship, the genuine people, those you want to keep in your network will generally be the first to ask, ‘what can I do for you?’ in return.
This last quote I stole from Patrick Bet-David. He actually has a lot more really great stuff to say about networking. We will look at that more in detail in the next post – Networking part 2, networking for business.
But for now, I’ve learned a lot about networking. And I feel this year I’ve become a lot more open and sociable. Even this act of studying, writing and sharing with you all, is an act of networking. I’m doing this to offer an insight to all the people out there who are like me. Though this path to success I feel I’m learning all the secrets that my up-bringing hid from me. I’m learning to overcome my fears and my bad habits and I’m actively overcoming my limitations and becoming a lot stronger and a lot more successful. And I feel that by sharing this with you I’m starting to find a community of people that I can be of assistance to. So, please feel free to share a comment, or click to link to my RSS feed. I love to hear from you and I love the idea that we are sharing this journey together.
Remember, life is as great as you want to make it. Find absolutely wonderful people that you love working with; people that inspire you and lift you up, and that you feel rewarded in helping. Build that community up and watch as you have even more great life experiences and you get access to even greater opportunities to succeed in life.
Go forward with faith and hope and love, and never stop striving to get what you want, to have the life you desire, and keep striving until you achieve success.
If you liked this please read more about business related ideas at http://success24x7.com/category/financial/.
Or if you like more positive ideas to live a better life at http://success24x7.com/category/life-success/.