Network Your Socks Off
You’ll have heard this time and again, I’m sure. For what it’s worth, this is my experience:
Everything of value in my work has come through the network. Specifically, as a coach and facilitator, people are more likely to work with me when they’ve had some personal contact. Generally, it’s true that people are more likely to trust someone they know, even if only a little. They’re also more likely to remember you when a relevant question arises.
So networking it is – whether you are self employed or employed by others.
Self employed networking
It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, if you can’t sell yourself there’ll be no money coming in. I speak from bitter experience - I was terrible at it. I went for sales training and tried the ‘right’ way, but soon learned it was a turn off to the sort of clients I wanted. It just didn’t suit me and had no connection to what I was offering. After some honest review, I came to the conclusion that networking was the way forward – meet people in the way I would work with them, so they can really see what they'd be getting. So I set out some guidelines for myself…
Decide what you want people to know about you and find the best way to show them. If you are selling sales, then use your skill to link to people. If you have a product, then find the best way to get it in front of them. For me, it was all about relationship, so that’s what I needed to do – build relationships.
Be memorable. After all, even the most interesting chat at a conference will fade into the background once back at work. First port of call, your business card. Having had numerous sets of cards over the years, I learned not to have shiny ones and to leave white space - if people can write on it, they're more likely to remember who you are. Or even better, put your photo on it – a good reminder once time has passed.
Mind you, an interesting woman I met once said she never carries cards. Instead she takes a card from others. That meant she could always make the next move and was never waiting, hoping someone would call.
Take a risk. I find conferences and large meetings really daunting. No one would know it, but I’m rather shy and the idea of going into a room full of people I don’t know is like fingers down a chalk board! So I have to gird my loins and take a risk, otherwise I might as well go home.
I look for someone on their own and introduce myself on the assumption it will be good for both of us. It may be just the right person and, if not, I warm up and get into the groove so I’m ready to approach the person I really want to talk to.
Be persistent and follow through. Once you’ve got the contact, then the work really begins. Call up, go for coffee, talk about options, write proposals and hopefully, eventually, you’ll invoice.
One of the best, most profitable pieces of work I ever got came after smoozing for eight years on and off! Mind you, you also need to judge the ones that are a no go and stop making the effort. I generally go on the enjoyment factor – if I have a good time, I’ll keep going. If I feel take advantage of, then I’ll stop.
From my time in employment plus all the coaching work I’ve done over the years, I know networking is just as important when you have a regular job, especially if you’re ambitious. All the same steps apply, with a couple of small additions:
Find the movers and shakers in your business. Your aim is to impress the right people so your name springs to mind when an opportunity arises. And you’ll do this by building relationships that inspire trust. Generally promotions / interesting projects go to the trusted person. You may well be able to do the job but unless you are known and trusted, you risk missing out.
Look for those who have greatest influence, not just the usual high performers. Their support will be invaluable, not least because they know so many people and can help you build connections.
Highly networked people are also a true gift to the shy and introverted. If you really struggle with smoozing, put all your energy into one person who’ll act as an intermediary on your behalf.
Get yourself a mentor. This is a significant relationship and really useful when you get promoted, take on management for the first time, have a new project to work on or have ideas you want to present to the business. Having a senior person who knows the ropes, is willing to help and will be an advocate /door opener for you adds enormous value in so many ways.
Choose someone with the required experience and that you feel a connection with. Then go and ask. It’s amazing how effective this is. When I discovered Action Learning, I wanted to find a mentor who could help me improve and the obvious person was the main authority in that style of work. I felt incredibly nervous as I pressed ‘send’ on the email, but he responded immediately and said he’d be delighted. In fact he was the one who encouraged / nagged me to get writing – so thanks David!
Network outside – always keep options open by knowing others in your profession. Go to conferences and meet people who work in other companies, as well as the head hunters. You’ll learn a huge amount, get a good sense of how good your present employer actually is and get to know people who can let you know when opportunities arise.
KEEP GOING - if you take nothing else from this blog, let it be this. Relationships take time and trust is remarkably slow to build, so be brave and be persistent. It will be worth it!
Post your questions in the comments section below, ask us on the Psychologies Facebook and Twitter page or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be posting regularly, answering your questions.