Whenever this topic comes up, we usually think about a roomful of nicely dressed up people sipping coffee or cocktails and exchanging business cards and pleasantries all hoping to meet people that would help them. They are either looking for opportunities or solutions to their problems. For most people the definition of networking is connecting their friends on social media casually.
Remember? In my childhood days, our parents used to tell me, “Son, You are travelling alone. Don’t talk to strangers!” A software engineer Praveen Wadalkar says he got the same advice from his parents until he became a solo traveller. He says his job involves creativity, but creativity every day is monotonous as well and to kill it he started solo travelling. Interestingly he played a “game of trust” with every stranger he met, contrary to his loved one’s advice.
Networking creates long and lasting relationships with others. It is about connecting with someone that if you call them about a year from now, they will be happy to hear from you. You will get together and share what exciting projects you are working on, the good and the bad or even leverage each other’s knowledge or contacts for each other’s personal gain. Sociologists call this having social capital. The more people that fit into your earlier description, the more valuable your network is, or simply saying, your net worth is equal to your network. And if you are wondering where to find them, well, pretty much anywhere. Networking can happen at a conference, at a leadership programme, inline at a Starbucks, at a resort or hotel /lobby, even at an event you discovered on Facebook. Hence speaking off, you cannot go on Facebook these days without getting bombarded with activities with the word “networking” in them.
From personal experience, these are a waste of time because everyone there is looking to vampire time, money and resources over drinks giving nothing back. So your best bet is speciality events where people having a particular set of skills which you might be interested in, gather. They will be more than happy to talk about things they are passionate about, and you will learn a lot more in return. A critical part of networking which others seldom mention is the confidence boost which you continuously go through while getting out of your comfort zone and meeting unknown people. This trait will quickly prove to be invaluable for the rest of your life.
Lewis Howes knows the sound of a broken dream. (Instagram – @Lewis Howes) He was an aspiring American football player, met with a significant injury very early in his life, which meant he couldn’t play professional football again. He tried for years to recover but not much help. He’d already survived childhood sexual abuse and been bullied in school, where he had struggled to keep up due to dyslexia. For many, this would have been the end of the world. A mentor suggested he get on LinkedIn. Lewis realized that the platform gave him direct access to lots of successful people, people who might be able to lead him to opportunities or at least explain to him how they had gotten to where they were. He says-
I never felt like I had the intelligence, or the skills, or the experience, or the credentials. I didn’t have any of that. When I would talk or meet with these influencers, I would never ask for advice. I would just say, “I’m so curious to hear your story about how you became successful.” And at the end of that I would say, “What’s the biggest challenge you have in your business, or your career, or your life right now?” and listen. And they would tell me everything
they needed. I said, “You need a sales guy? I’ve got three of the top ones right here. You need a programmer? I’ve got this person. You need a designer? I met one last week. He was great.” I just became this connector to all the most successful people. I never asked for a job. I never asked for business. That one-word chapter confirmed that when we show up and we add value, and we care, then we can learn how to make money around it later. But show up with value first. That is how I built the last decade of my life.
That’s how networking is done.
As I earlier said, your network is your net worth; this has been proven to be correct throughout the ages. Those who have a solid circle around them can rely on it, the rest don’t have that luxury. The same circle can speed up your growth. The more people you know, the more opportunities will come your way. Strategic partnerships and recommendations can go a long way these days, and you can never have enough of those in your corner.
Now all this sounds fantastic, but you must be thinking now that – Hey!! I am an introvert, or I am shy, or I can barely muster up the nerve to talk to one person, or I don’t want to talk to people with an agenda, let alone of entering a room full of people and network. Well, that’s totally fine, it means that you are not there yet. Start small, reach out to old connections may be an old friend from high school or university or maybe with someone whom you got along with at your earlier job, even that friendly neighbour who always says hi when you meet but never got a conversation going.
Your network increases exponentially with time. Suppose the 10 people you know, know 10 more people each and they know 10 more. That’s 1000 people in your network and is simply like Linkedin, i.e. 1st connection, 2nd connection, 3rd connection. Networking, recommendations and collaborations are so important nowadays that social media, artificial intelligence, businesses are taking it up as their lead and revenue generation ideas. Networking can land you good job opportunities, can give you honest reviews and recommendations, in short, a world full of new experiences. In the past year, I made many new relationships with people like-
A pencil sketch artist
An oil canvas painter
Someone who is an ardent supporter of the LGBTQ community and made me aware of the famous “pride parade”.
A content writer
An audiologist cum dancer
An HR professional but passionate singer and ex-Indian Idol contestant
A visual merchandiser
A chartered accountant who wants to open a manufacturing unit someday
A girl who is working on three jobs and a business project simultaneously
A bitcoin trader who owns an ice cream chain
The list goes on and on. Now that I look back, I realize that these are people I would have never come across in my entire life. Networking is easy. In the process, you may find your soulmate, business partner, a friend for life. It can indeed be a solution to depression and maintaining good mental health. Maybe in the process, you find your calling and want to pursue your passion/dream.
Here are some steps you could follow while networking-Make it easy for people to approach you.
Don’t stand next to a wall staring into space and avoiding people.
Have a goal. Go into a conversation with someone having a goal of learning about him/her and genuinely be interested.
Initiate the first step. Ask a person about their hobbies, interests and passions, what brings them to the event and what has been there takeaways from previous events they have been to. People love to recommend resources and create a connection based on similar interests.
Balance the conversation. You talk a little, then the other person talks a little, and it keeps going back and forth.
Give first and receive later. This comes a few minutes into the conversation, maybe you give that person a tip about something they shared or offer advice of how to solve a problem they have or you can even connect them to someone whom you know will be of their help. After you do this, people have an internal instinct to help you in return. This is also called the “art of reciprocity”.
Don’t bring negativity into play. Don’t bond with others on how much the event sucks or how terrible the speaker was, instead always focus on the positives. Optimists outperform the pessimists or realists in the long run.
Keep your conversations short and meaningful. Don’t waste people’s time.
Enjoy the event or setting. Just think about your current contacts. You find that most of them you found in different circumstances and bonded over insignificant things. With time these would lead to quality friendship. Just don’t force it. If you want to get better at networking and building up the circle of yours, read books to get quick tools.
Human beings are social creatures, so why not improve that aspect of your life?
Some books to help you out-
Let me know your experiences with networking in the comments below. Can’t wait to learn your stories.