The Nuts & Bolts of Networking
Networking is a method that is used to build relationships. These relationships could be with classmates, co-workers, business partners, vendors, service providers and even family. We often attend family reunions where we meet new and distant relations. This is an excellent vehicle for networking. Networking is the process of discovering and using connections between people. Many of these connections actually stem from already established friendships and business relations. Networking is the ability to explore all of your relationships and utilize them to help you to move closer to your long-term goals.
Think of a computer network. You are the central server. Whenever you come across another server with information you wish to access, you need to build a connection with routers and cabling to reach the information contained on that server’s hard drive. The router is the method or the person who referred you to the new server and the cables are the relationship that was built between you and the new server in order to easily access that information.
Why is networking so important? Have you ever heard the phrase, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. Truer words were never spoken. By building positive relationships with a variety of people both in and out of your chosen career field, you may find a whole world of new opportunities that you can begin to explore. Networking is probably the most important skillset you can possess in your career, business and life in general. Networking allows you access to people and resources that you may not otherwise have had prior contact with. Through the proper use of networking skills, you will be in a position to weave your way through the intricate infrastructure of corporate America. For professional women, this could mean that the infamous “glass ceiling” could literally disappear. Your career options become limitless and getting your foot in the door becomes effortless.
Networking makes you visible to potential employers, your current management and other business connections. If you have a job where you’re stuck in a closed-in cubicle all day with little interaction with your co-workers, what is it that sets you apart from any other caged employee come time for annual review? Believe it or not, your performance is secondary to the attitude and personality that you display during those rare occasions that you do have the opportunity for some sort of social interaction. Almost every company participates in a form of employee appreciation to help promote corporate culture. These are usually company-sponsored events like department parties, holiday celebrations or summer picnics. Employees who actively participate in these types of events are much more likely to climb the corporate ladder and receive higher incremental raises than employees who never attend. This is because the actively participating employee shows his/her management that they are a team player, fully engaged in their commitment to their position which results in the building of a clearly visible and viable relationship.
Some other reasons learning to network is important are that you are can explore your chosen career and examine its outlook, connect with and learn from others in the industry, learn and start using industry-specific jargon and get support and additional leads and referrals to aid you in your job search. Networking can vastly narrow your target list of potential employers and help you to maintain employability in an uncertain job market.
So we know what networking is; now how do you do it? Networking is actually a lot easier than it seems. We do it every single day. When you nod your head to a stranger whom you have happened to have made eye contact with, or saying a casual hello to your neighbor or even smiling at the driver in the next car who is bopping his head to some beat; these are all examples of the very first stage of networking – greeting and acknowledgement. So in the first stage, you are simply establishing contact. Greet and acknowledge the person you are attempting to network with. “Hello”, “Good morning”, “Happy Friday!”, “Hey!”, “What’s up?” In whatever manner is the most appropriate given the situation and the person you are addressing, you must first establish that contact by acknowledging them with a greeting.
The second stage is the introduction. In this stage, you are exchanging information about one another in order to begin building a relationship. The introduction is the most crucial and the most difficult stage in the networking process. It is composed of several elements: the name exchange, the elevator speech and business card exchange. The name exchange sounds simple enough but you would be surprised by how many people actually forget to give the other person their name. So get into the habit of stating your name and position first whenever you meet someone new. “Hello, my name is Niquenya D. Fulbright and I’m an executive life coach and professional speaker.” Or “hello, my name is George and I work in real estate” or “Good morning, I’m Pat O’Hara. I’m an investment banker.” You should say this as clear and concise as possible. Be prepared to repeat or even spell difficult or uncommon names, especially in loud, crowded places. Also, if the other person doesn’t immediately offer their own name and title, make sure that you ask them “what is your name?”
Once you have exchanged names, you must then further build on the new relationship by telling the person why they should care to remember you. What do you do? Usually your job title isn’t clear enough to give people a good idea of what you really do. This is where an elevator speech becomes important. Your elevator speech is a minute or less introduction of you and your business or career. It should be interesting enough to capture their attention but not so detailed that there isn’t further room left for conversation. Also, you don’t want to go much longer than a minute as then it can become boring. Once you have delivered your elevator speech, you should then ask the other person, using their name, what it is they do? For instance, “okay, Claudia, so what do you do?” An example of a full introduction sounds like this, “hello, my name is Niquenya D. Fulbright and I’m an executive life coach and professional speaker. I specialize in motivating small business owners, entrepreneurs and individuals in a career or life transition to use their innate abilities to master their goals and achieve successes beyond their wildest dreams. I have a special passion for single working mothers because I am a member of that group. So, what is your name and what do you do?” You should write out a good elevator speech and practice it several times until it is committed to memory.
The final element of the introduction is the business card exchange. Before you break away from a successful contact, make sure that you request the other person’s business card and give them yours too. You should also write down a few key points from your conversation on the other person’s card. Some things that will be important are where you were when you met them and any personal information that could help you to identify who they are. If they mentioned they are married or have a few kids, this would be important to jot down for use in follow-up conversations.
The final stage of networking is follow-up. This is where you take all of the business cards that you have collected and send a quick email or snail mail letter to the individual. It should read something like “Hello Claudia, I really enjoyed meeting you at the annual Church Bizarre. It is so nice to meet someone else who is also interested in playing paintball. Maybe one day we can get together to build a team. We can even bring our kids. I know you said your daughter would definitely be interested. I actually know of an event coming up in April. I can forward you that information if you like. Please let me know if there is ever anything that I can do for you. I look forward to connecting with you again in the future, Sincerely Niquenya D. Fulbright.” At the end of your email or letter, make sure to include your signature with title, company and contact information. This is really important to maintain visibility in this new relationship. You should continue to send periodic quick notes to the other person over time. It is a good idea to notify them of special events and important updates about your own business too. Be careful not to spam your new contact by gaining their permission prior to sending out any frequently distributed newsletters or adding them to any mailing lists. You can even invite them out to a coffee or tea date to discuss mutually beneficial projects as well.
So you know what networking is and why it is important and I’ve even given you some ideas on how to do it. Now where do you start? First, join as many networking groups as possible. Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, your local church or neighborhood community councils, political fundraisers and others are excellent forums for establishing new relationships and often host events specifically geared to this purpose. When choosing a networking group, rather online or offline, there are several factors you must consider. These include whether membership is free or by fee, the size of the group, its growth potential and the quality of contacts within the current member base. Pick and choose your groups based upon your intended purpose and whether it is a cost-effective solution based upon your budget.
Get into the habit of going through the networking stages everywhere you go, even at the bus stop. Participate in all company functions, be they holidays, birthdays, bowling, picnics or whatever. Volunteering is also a great way to build relationships through networking. Relationships are essential to life. No man is an island, therefore, without relationships, we can not breathe. Never discount a connection even if you can not see an immediate use for the new contact. The situation may change for either or both of you. It is not unlikely that this person could offer you a referral 5-10 years down the line. By maintaining follow-up contact, you are essentially doubling your own network by gaining access to theirs.
Make sure you reach out and touch someone today. Make a commitment to establishing 10 new contacts, 10 new connections, 10 new relationships each day. And follow-up!
© 2007 by Niquenya D. Fulbright-All Rights Reserved.
About the Author:
Niquenya D. Fulbright is a Chicago area executive life coach, professional speaker and corporate trainer with over 10 years experience specializing in motivating small business owners, entrepreneurs, executives, groups and individuals in a career or life transition to use their innate abilities to master their goals and achieve successes beyond their wildest dreams. Niquenya wants to partner with you in building a bridge between your dreams and ultimate reality. For more information or to schedule a complimentary coaching session, visit http://www.niquenyafulbright.com, send inquiry to email@example.com or call 773-368-3575. All coaching sessions are performed via telephone.