To some, networking means simply meeting or calling someone new for what might be a one-time discussion or cold sales call. In this limited sense, networking is only a trading relationship in which two parties seek to discover whether they have anything of mutual interest to talk about. They either make some sort of exchange or quickly move on.
This makes networking a highly "transactional" subject, much like buying and selling or negotiating with someone.
My view is very different, because I believe that networking has a much wider definition. In fact, it can be a major social and life skill to be used in both a business/organizational arena and personal setting.
The very best business professionals I know are excellent networkers. Good networking skills are a key ingredient for salespeople, in particular. If you are a business or sales professional, building networking skills could make the difference between being adequate and being highly successful.
The Benefits of Networking in Business
The benefits of effective networking in business are many. Some of these are:
It is the most cost-effective marketing tool available.
Networking referrals will typically generate 80 percent more sales results than a cold call.
About 70 to 80 percent of all jobs are found through networking.
Every person you meet has 200-250 people with whom they connect, who can potentially assist you.
Just think about it: Anyone whom you might want to meet or contact in the world is only five to six other people's contacts away from you.
As if these reasons were not enough, a healthy and active link to a network is a vast resource available to every individual at a low personal cost. It can help you to achieve a range of goals that otherwise might be too hard or out of reach.
Where to Find Contacts?
While family, friends and other easily identifiable contacts are a good place to start your networking efforts, sooner or later you will need to extend yourself beyond your familiar surroundings and look to attend relevant meetings and/or events.
In many ways, the type of meeting or event that you choose is not particularly important. If your hobby is old model trains, and someone advertises an "old model train meeting and exhibition," you are obviously likely to meet lots of people who might become good network contacts. However, this is likely to be the exception rather than the rule.
In most cases, meetings or social gatherings of people will be much more general affairs -- ones that can only be broadly "qualified" for their possible relevance.
Start the Networking Adventure
The trick in networking (if there is one) is to treat all meetings or events as an adventure.
Like any adventure, you may have some fear and trepidation about facing the unexpected, but you should also feel some of the thrill of the challenge and excitement in finding new people with whom you can really connect. By making time in your schedule to attend networking events, you can watch others networking and get into the habit of talking to the people you meet.
Don't forget: Networking successfully means that we sometimes have to stretch ourselves to the edges of our comfort zones -- hard at first, but much easier with practice. And the rewards -- particularly in sales -- are hard to beat.
Whether it is a formal meeting or event or a casual affair, in networking, it is very important always to be prepared.
Even if you are shy, introverted, nervous, bored or tired, you just never know when you are going to bump into interesting and useful people.
Part of the process of "being prepared" is to have crisp information about yourself available so that your communication is short, focused and clear -- not totally unlike an elevator pitch. Some of this is provided by a good business card; however, effective networking is rarely achieved by saying "Hello," and merely handing over a business card -- you also have to give something of yourself as a person.
So, What Do You Do?
It pays to think hard about what you could and should communicate in what might be only a few seconds. It is amazing how many people respond to the question "What do you do?" with, "That's a difficult/interesting question," or, "I'm an engineer/analyst/administrator/
Such responses do little to educate the person asking. It is far better to give some thought to this question ahead of time (even if there are two or three versions of a reply you'd like to use), and practice your answer.
Keep It Short and Simple
Many of the books on networking advocate specific advice, such as introductions of "10 words or less," or, "no more than two sentences." However, although keeping it short is important, it is more critical that you are:
Clear -- use common words, no jargon
Concise -- use short words and sentences
Personable -- use engaging, friendly and warm words
Interesting -- say something different or distinctive
You typically have only about five to 10 seconds to cover these four criteria, but this realistically gives you up to 20 words to use.
Finally: Introduce Yourself
Specific introductions will be very much up to the individual style and personality. However, once again, this is an opportunity to stretch yourself to the edge of your comfort zone and present yourself as positively as you can. A simple example that meets all the above criteria might be:
"Hello, my name is Annabelle Jones. I spend my time designing and running interactive booklets on networking."
Note that this has to cover what you do in practical terms, and not just your name and job title.
Perhaps a more forthright example might be:
"Hello, my name is Annabelle Jones. I produce TV screen advertisements from script to screen and everything in between the two."
Finally, I must highlight the fact that the warmth of your introduction will determine the outcome of the meeting. Even though you may well be shy and nervous, it is important to make eye contact and smile -- it sends out the message that you are confident, relaxed and friendly.
When your networking contacts begin to yield sales, you'll find it much easier to continue your networking adventure with confidence and a smile.