Apr 9, 2013

Learn To Love Networking

I have a love-hate relationship with networking. I love meeting with smart, creative people, but I hate the grind of networking.

Luncheons, coffees and events are time consuming. And superficial conversations about “What do you do?” drive me nuts. I don’t have time for unproductive networking.

But networking is a critical part of business. A third of my clients have come through networking and referrals. And I always walk away energized and brimming with ideas when I meet someone who is intellectually curious and passionate about their business.

The challenge is staying focused, and not getting lost in the process of networking.

Be Proactive

It’s easy to fall out of networking. If you’re not proactive you won’t meet new people, and more importantly you won’t meet the right people.

Networking is my time to connect with people on the phone, via Skype or face-to-face. This is separate from the work I do on social media and content creation.

I find the more I reach out and engage people the better my results. Networking requires a proactive approach. I try to add 3 names to my To Do list every week of people I want to reach out to.

I never know what the outcome will be, but I’m always pleasantly surprised by the conversations. People appreciate it when you make an effort to connect with them to get to know them.

What’s your approach? What steps or activities do you use to connect with new people on a regular basis?

No Lunches

Time is my achilles heal, and networking lunches have proven to be one of the most ineffective uses of my time.

In 2007 I made a commitment to “no more lunches.” At the time I was having at least three networking lunches a week, and I was finding them time consuming, fattening and expensive. They weren’t working for me anymore.

Networking is at its best when it plays to your strengths. How do you like to engage with new people? Large group settings, small groups, or more intimate one-on-one meetings?

I prefer coffee meetings over lunches. They’re shorter, less formal, and a bit more focused. Choose the platform that works best for you, and focus your efforts on your strengths.

Try, Measure, Adapt

I try new networking activities on a regular basis. Usually for one year commitments.

Over the years I’ve participated in various peer groups, associations and networking groups. Some of have been remarkably rewarding and effective, while others have been a bust.

It’s very hard to tell the quality of a group until you join it. And “trying it” is rarely good enough. You’ve got to become a member of the group and be considered an insider before the magic happens.

At the end of each year I measure the results. I evaluate the experience on 3 dimensions:

  1. Business and referrals generated
  2. Quality of the people I met
  3. Personal fulfillment and enjoyment

If the group is firing on all cylinders, I’ll recommit for another year. If not, I’ll find another activity to do.

Leaving groups is not a bad thing. If you are proactive and sustain the quality relationships you made, they’ll stick with you for life. And joining a new group will give you an opportunity to find even more remarkable people that will grow into lasting relationships.

Networking is personal

I’ve read books on effective networking and studied people I admire, and after a fair bit of deliberation and practice I’ve come to a conclusion. Networking is personal.

It doesn’t matter what other people do, and what the “experts” say is the right way to network. Do what works for you.

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