Networking is an often undervalued, underutilized, but tremendously important skill-set. It seems the majority of people do not even think about networking until they are laid off, leave a job, move to a new city, or start a company. But why? What is so difficult about networking and why is it not prioritized by most of us? Is it too difficult for some to put themselves out there, or is it simply too easy to deprioritize?
I for one always considered myself a good networker but didn’t understand the importance, or nuances, until I started my company. It wasn’t until I started my company that I began to see the networking gaps that I possessed. Since this realization, I have been on a quest to overcome my lack of networking for good.
For those of you that think networking is tough, or do not even know where to begin, check out the below discussion. We took action and decided to ask a networking expert, Graham Kelly, on some best practices we could employ to tighten up this extremely important, and often overlooked, skill-set.
- Is there a best practice for establishing a relationship with someone you would like to add to your network?
One of the first things that I talk about when training people on networking is the two C’s; CLARITY and CONTEXT.
Clarity- be clear with your words. The need for detail orientation right now is completely futile as you’re just trying to get their attention. There’s always time for a broader conversation to go into detail.
Then provide CONTEXT. What’s the WHY of the message?
Few people make context other than what’s in it for them and not what’s in it for the person that you’re trying to talk to. So, you need to do enough research on the individual to provide some context on what’s in it for them. Those are two rules that I use.
That works every time because we’re human beings, and we want to help one another at our core. Give to someone as your first step, or first three steps before you start asking for something in return.
- What about people worrying about giving something for free or that their initial help will not be reciprocated?
It won’t be that long. Human beings will always step up and return the favor. In a lot of cases, it will be unsolicited. Giving and getting, and collaboration is what a thriving network is. So it’s really important to not be the guy or gal that reaches out only when they need something.
- Is it inappropriate to ask a reference or introduction? When do you know the timing is right?
It is always better to be direct. There’s a difference between being assertive, and arrogant. Being assertive gets the attention of someone that you’re serious, you’re being clear, and you bring context. And they appreciate the directness.
The other thing you should ask them, at some point, “Beau, I would really like a reference from you because you have these people in your network. Generally, you have the expertise that I really would like to get into and get referrals.” “What are your requirements for being a reference for me or for anyone else?”
Most people really haven’t thought about answering that question. You’ve already earned credibility just by asking them to articulate what it will take.
- How often should you reach out and or stay connected to your networking partners?
I really suggest simply asking someone how often they are open to connecting or staying in touch. This sets the proper expectations upfront for both parties and also allows you the excuse and opportunity to send a note and not be reluctant about sending a message. If they do not have the right answer upfront, allow them some time to get back to you.
- What would you say the best mediums for networking are? Is it networking events? Is it LinkedIn? Is it email? Or is it a warm referral?
The warm referral is always the best. The second one that I’ve found to be very good is sending a message on a platform like LinkedIn.
Find something that person is interested in outside of work; a charity, a hobby, and find something in common. Don’t start talking to them about skiing if you’re a snowboarder. You need to find something that’s genuine, and genuinely an interest you both share.
Email is important, but it would be my last resort because people are getting so many emails from everybody that it would be difficult to differentiate yours versus others.
- How do you say no to getting introduced to a new contact when you simply do not have the time?
I don’t believe in people not having time because we’re all in that same boat, we all don’t have time. And because of that, it doesn’t really matter. There are physical limitations if you’re on a call or something, and you’re trying to grab someone’s attention.
But in general, I think everyone’s got time. The real point in that question is, whether you’re being prioritized or deprioritized.
So what is it in your message? Was it clear and contextual? Was it a give versus get that would want that person to prioritize you over other conversations that they’re having? It’s refining what you want from that person. And I also think that being mindful of when you talk to them will help a lot.
Building your network is critical in today’s environment. Those that are effective at this skill will have a competitive advantage against those that are not. While networking may seem like a heavy lift to some, the key is starting, being deliberate with your actions, ensuring that you reciprocate each and every interaction, but more importantly lead. Showing your network that you follow through and are proactive in your actions will pay dividends down the road. Like many things in life, the more you give, the more you are likely to receive.
Beau Billington- the founder of the Free Agent, a consulting company immersed in the strategic-layer of the Gig Economy-
With Cooperation By: Graham Kelly has been a builder and leader of high performing teams in the high-tech/software sector for 20+ years. The companies that Graham has worked for and consulted were either market leaders or market makers that needed high performing teams to help those companies scale for growth.