Networking as a business professional is a key gateway toward your success. It is a professional development activity that one cannot live without. There are those individuals out there who absolutely love networking and embrace the opportunity to continue to build up a bench of business professionals around them. While on the other side of the room, there are those who feel it is that necessary evil that each time they think about it, it results in an upset stomach. To those individuals I say, “Time to get over it!” Now is the time to dive headfirst into those networking activities without the fear of failure. Once you get the hang of it, you will see an abundance of success coming your way.
There have been many books and theories written on the art of networking that could fill one’s office to the ceiling. I could literally take every page of this magazine and provide you with subject matter related to “the art of networking.” However, my editor probably would not be pleased, so instead, I am going to provide you with a few key things to think about when going about your professional networking journey.
What Networking is NOT
Before you begin to dive headfirst into networking, you must understand what it is and what it is not. It is important that you identify your end goal and then build your plan of action around that. Networking is not a one-way street. One cannot go into a networking event asking people for a job or asking them to buy your product or support your cause. You will quickly establish a negative reputation for yourself. It is all about building up trusted relationships over time, so that people can trust you enough to then support you in some, way shape, or form, even if you are looking for a job or selling a product. By not establishing a trusted relationship from the beginning, you are destined to fail.
Networking is not about who collects the most business cards and has the biggest bench of professionals to call upon. It is all about the quality of your network versus the quantity. All successful people surround themselves with other successful people. Who do you want to be associated with? What reputation do you want to establish for yourself? By aligning yourself with other successful individuals who have reputable business practices, you, too, will establish a positive reputation for yourself and be highly sought-after.
Networking is not limited to those individuals within your local market. Think about expanding your network to those successful individuals within your industry, functional area of expertise, those you went to school with or people you just plain admire. Utilize LinkedIn as a starting point for your “virtual networking” with the goal of securing initial informational phone calls with your networking targets. By doing this, your network will exponentially grow well beyond your local market, further increasing your marketability in the eyes of others.
What Networking IS
Networking is all about establishing a relationship that is reciprocal. It is about “giving to get.” If you want to succeed at networking, it is important to have a “what can I do for you” mentality. Too many people approach networking by seeking out what they need or what they are after. I encourage individuals to take the opposite approach. Take the time and effort to help others within your network. As you start helping others succeed, they, in turn, will help you. Become proactive in thinking about ways in which you can pay it forward for those around you. Help them accomplish their goals, and in turn, they will help you accomplish yours.
Positive attitude is everything when it comes to networking. Ensure that your interactions with others are enjoyable and you discuss topics that are fun, professional and interesting. You do not want to establish a reputation for always discussing controversial topics, gossip or “doom and gloom.” You want to establish yourself as someone who is likeable, authentic, approachable and easy to speak with.
Be sure to adhere to the 80/20 rule when networking. This means you should take 80 percent of your time listening to those around you while spending 20 percent of your time doing the talking yourself. A lot can be uncovered by just listening to people talk about themselves, their successes and their advice. You want to avoid being the “over-talker” of the group and taking up everyone’s time while not giving those around you an opportunity to speak. However, when it is your time to talk, make sure it is memorable, impactful and intelligent. You want to ensure that you ask great questions and your insight adds value to the conversation.
Networking lasts a lifetime. It is all about establishing and maintaining long-term relationships and not just recycling them over and over again for your immediate needs. It is very important to keep in touch with those within your professional network on a consistent basis regardless of whether or not you are “seeking” something out of them. Great ways to keep in touch with contacts include emailing links to articles you read that you think might be of interest them or a recommendation for a recent book you just read and the value you think they could get out of it; follow them on LinkedIn and Twitter in an effort to keep up to date on topics they may be talking about and respond to them with insightful feedback; and last but not least, the old-fashioned, handwritten thank-you note. Don’t hesitate to send them a handwritten note from time to time thanking them for the relationship you have established and how much you feel they add value to your career and success.
All successful people have had to rely on others to help them get where they are today. Very few people can go about their careers alone and achieve the type of success they dream about. By overcoming your fear of networking, helping those within your network achieve great success for themselves, and surrounding yourself with intelligent and hardworking individuals, you, too, can achieve the type of success you dream about.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CRAIG W. PETRUS joined the Hough Graduate School of Business in June of 2009. As Director, Craig is responsible for the day-to-day operations of Graduate Business Career Services and ensuring the delivery of quality career development programming and services to students within the Hough Graduate School of Business A at the University of Florida.