Networking is fundamental to how I run my business and how I create relationships. I love Networking because it has given me so many amazing opportunities and experiences in my life and I have met some incredibly inspiring and nurturing individuals with the advent of social media. I learn something each day with every connection. Networking is something we all can use. Networking is something we all need. Networking is something we can all improve upon. So here are my top ten tips to gaining networking skills.
1. Networking is the new certainty in life, so start learning now.
Benjamin Franklin once said the only two certainties in life are "Death and Taxes". I propose that there are two more -- delivering Presentations and dealing with People. No matter where you go, you are giving presentations at school, at work and at home. Throughout your life you will always need to deal with people whether at home, work or in public. Networking is both presenting and dealing with people. Once you acknowledge and accept this, why not start investing now to become better at it?
2. The 80-20 rule of networking helps you find jobs and opportunities.
They say 80 per cent of jobs and opportunities are found through networking and 20 per cent are not. 20 per cent of people use networking skills effectively and 80 per cent do not. So if 20 per cent of all people are using networking to get at 80 per cent of all the opportunities, what should you be doing? Networking!
3. Give without expectation.
Networking is not asking for a job and it is not just taking what you can from a connection. My personal philosophy is to give without expectation. I always ask every contact "What can I do to help you?" I give my ear and spend a good amount of time just listening because every person has his/her story. This philosophy will help build up your reputation, integrity and personal brand. That good karma will come back to you.
4. Know your value.
With any networking scenario, there will be give and take. Many people, especially youth, don't realize what value they can provide. Every person has value and it comes from your experiences, your energy and enthusiasm, your personality and your contacts. Beyond that, you should get comfortable with knowing your personal brand and elevator pitch. Take to the time to understand what you bring to the table. Remember that networking is not just "I want to meet you" but also "I want you to meet me".
5. Build the relationships.
Networking is just the start. Your ultimate goal is to build a relationship. That is where the true value of networking comes into play because you will get advice, support, mentorship, and a higher likelihood of opportunities coming your way.
6. Everyone is a bridge.
We forget that every single person we meet can be a bridge to someone else. Perhaps that cashier has an uncle who works at the company you have targeted for a new job? I have discovered opportunities from random meetings in an elevator, a subway seat and a New Year's Eve party. Know that you can network anywhere, anytime with anyone!
7. Networking strategies are great, but learn the tactics.
Every networking article talks about the typical strategies - have business cards, create your pitch, have a plan, etc. But very few talk about actual tactics. You need to learn how to enter a conversation, ask the right questions and leave the conversation. The best tactic to enter a conversation is to use your "power words" such as "Hi!", "Excuse me...", "Sorry to interrupt..." and "Pardon me..." These words will get you into any conversation. Just make sure you are clear and loud enough to be heard. You should also ask open-ended questions such as "what are you passionate about" and "where do you see yourself in 10 years". These questions invest, engage and open up the conversation. When you need to leave, again use your power words from above and mention the next step you'd like to take (e.g. e-mail, call, coffee, LinkedIn connection, etc.).
8. Leverage Online Networking is now expected, so build a compelling presence and brand.
Social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ are huge right now. Start building your profiles in these spaces if you are there. If you are not sure where to be, think about who you want to network with. For example if the majority of the people and companies you admire are engaging on LinkedIn and Facebook then you need to be there. Having a strong profile, responding to articles and updates, and connecting with people you have networked with will build your online personal brand.
9. Not following-up renders networking useless!
So often people exchange business cards and never contact each other. Or they add each other on LinkedIn and the networking dies there. Remember you are building a relationship and you want to be memorable. Following up is critical to making your networking skills work effectively. In fact, by following up you are setting yourself apart from most networkers. I once spoke about networking at a national conference of 500 young entrepreneurs. I personally asked them all to take my business card and contact me. 75 people took my card, 21 people followed up and only 2 maintained a relationship with me. So you can either be in the top 15 per cent of taking a card, the top 4 per cent who actually follow-up or the top 0.4 per cent who created a relationship. Where do you want to be?
10. You gotta want it!
Networking, like leadership, is something you have to want and demonstrate. This mean you have to do everything -- be prepared, plan your questions, rehearse your tactics, offer to help, use social networking, follow-up and build the relationship -- to make an impact with networking. The person that called and e-mailed me 7 times in order to get a coffee meeting finally got one, because he got my attention. The person that waited for 30 minutes while I was talking to dozens of people after my keynote then got me for one-on-one for 10 full minutes. The student who offered to help me with a project eventually got hired for a job and then later I recommended her for another job. The more you want it, the more you will do and the more you will find success with networking skills.