Today we all have one of the biggest networks ever known to mankind. Technology has both made our world smaller and more accessible, yet expanded our pool of individuals with which to connect. Our social media feeds flood us with the importance of networking. Articles explaining how our networks can connect us with the right influencers and create opportunities down stream. Feeds that remind us that networks offer security and career advancement. Yet, the problem is there isn’t a lot of information out there on how one goes about networking. And while many of us ‘connect' with large networks of individuals, our networks are not very effective nor beneficial.
Here are 5 key strategies in creating a beneficial network and utilize what you already know:
1. Understand that you already know how to network.
Networking can seem like a big deal. With all the focus on building networks these days, it’s easy to get carried away. Have perseverance. It doesn’t have to be so complicated. Simply put, networking is something we’ve all been doing since grade school. Remember when you needed to get out of traffic ticket, needed help with a teacher, or needed grandma to convince your Mom to let you go on Spring Break? Or perhaps as an adult recall when you needed the cheapest tree removal service or best home painters and you called all your friends to find a service that fit your needs and budget. You didn’t worry yourself with how to ask for help correctly. You simply called the people you knew (your network) to create a desired outcome.
That is really all we are talking about here. Networking is simply working with people you know that can do life with you. To ease the burden, networking has been a part of our DNA and life skill since we starting having desires we could not meet on our own.
2. Understand that Networking is not using others:
Every time I see an article or book on networking my eyes roll into the back of my head. Not because I do not value the importance of networking. But, because networking is so overly explained in regards to "getting ahead in ones career", it can seem that networking is really just using others to get ahead. In my book, this is not networking. Networking is not creating connections for the sheer purpose of using them somewhere down the road. When people try to connect in this manner it is not only disingenuous, but obvious and can feel awkward all parties.
Recall the ticket, teacher and Spring Break previously. Or the tree removal service and painters. We were able to reach out to our existing network and ask for help without it being awkward because we already had mutual relationships with those of whom we asked. It’s important to connect with others for the purpose of creating mutually beneficial relationships, not for the purpose of abusing or overusing their extended network or skills. By asking ourselves what can we offer to the relationship we create not only a more fulfilling connection, but a stronger one as well.
3. Understand the difference and importance in creating multiple networks for various reasons:
Understand that certain networks work for some areas of your life, while additional networks work for others. As a vegan, I can not go to my business network of predominately meat eating men and ask them for vegan dishes. Nor could I go to a vegan meet up and ask try to talk about Financial Planning and Analysis trends and topics on a deep level. When we needed that tree service or painter we were careful to reach out to those of whom could help us source the information. We didn’t reach out and waste the time of those that couldn't help us source the information.
When beginning to build out networks, be mindful of what it is that you wish to obtain and depart upon the group. Hoping to find strong business women who encourage you to climb the corporate ladder? Desire to be surrounded by entrepreneurs that help you scale to new heights? Perhaps, you really do just need some updated recipes or want to work on your golf swing. Whatever it is, realize that you can not meet all your life’s needs in one group of people. Our multifaceted lives demand a range of interesting people, some that overlap in interest and many that connect with very specific attributes of our personalities.
4. Get out there and star networking:
To do this, ask yourself what it is you desire and look for organizations that you can server or join to meet that desire. Be strategic with your search. As a leader in finance and technology, that is where I would start. Getting to know more people in my space of interest. Once you find your organizations, attend a few sessions or activities and feel out the crowd, message and trajectory. If none of it aligns to your goals and aspirations, it’s okay to move on. When you do find a organization that you want to explore deeper, start out by being present, don’t go in sneaking business cards into everyone’s palms and pockets. Show up, be present, invest and what the connections unfold.
5. Make time and Show up:
As a busy mom, we are the first to ‘no show’ an outing with friends or co-workers. We have to stop doing this. Often times it’s easier to put our heads down to meet that deadline than it is to peel away and connect with our newly formed network or co-workers. And harder still if there are family responsibilities that we must tackle after our long work day. We may think that plowing through and over preforming will get us the promotion that we deserve. But studies show, it’s the network and interpersonal relationships that create career advancement (within and outside of the company).
Not only do we need to make time to be there for others, but when we commit we should follow through. Breaking commitments is the quickest way burn bridges. And with the interconnections of networks, one bridge can shut down your entire network. We must be mindful of others' time and follow through. Sometimes we can forget that when both parties commit to something, both parties were saying no to something else in order to be there. In short, make time and then show up.
6. Ask for help and and give help when needed:
If your network is our net worth, then all the activity within that network, is a bank. Make sure that within your network you and investing in others, as mentioned before. Make those deposits into the bank, and when you need the help, ask for it.
Unfortunately women are the least likely to call in favors and ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. In fact leverage is the rich mans tool. When you have connections with others with whom you have a mutually beneficial relationship, go to them. Understand that no one gets anywhere on their own. Those same people we are afraid of asking for help, are in desire of someone to help. They themselves received help in their climb and are not only willing but wanting someone with whom to pay it forward.
To make things short, you already know how to create lasting and effective relationships, so go and do. Make time and follow through. Then remember when you get to where you are going, turn around and help the next one in line.
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