Networks are powerful.
We’ve all heard the saying: ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’.
That’s because networks are powerful.
They’re more than a collection of business cards building up on your desk or how many connections you’ve got on social media.
Your network is your community. They’re your team. Your cheerleaders.
The best thing about your network is that it’s original to you. It’s built around your unique set of interests, skills, attributes, experiences and the locations where you’ve spent time.
Like any valuable asset, your network benefits from long-term investment. Those who invest time in people, in their network, and in their community get ahead.
How strong is your network?
Some of the most successful and impactful people I’ve met in more than 20 years helping people stand out, are those who are the best networked.
So, how strong is your network?
A great way to evaluate this is not by how many names and numbers you have in your contact book but how many people you can call upon when you need support.
- How many people would be genuinely interested to hear about a new development in your life or business?
- How many would be willing to offer advice if you encountered a challenge?
- How many would support you if you launched something?
- How many people would help you when it matters?
The benefits of networking.
As is said in the film It’s a Wonderful Life – “no one is a failure who has friends”. Now, that’s not to say you need to let everyone in your network into your inner circle where you share every secret and life moment. It’s not to say you need to invite them into your home. But it’s good to have a strong network around you that you can depend upon.
As you expand your network, your world expands. Along with their support and encouragement comes fresh inspiration, expertise and wisdom. Plus, more and more ambassadors out there championing you.
Your network can also be a brilliant source of market intelligence too. When you get into conversation with people, you can ask them what they think about ideas and you can see what the response may be to potential products and services. You can ask people for feedback live in the room and you can pick up interesting insights too.
Your network is also powerful for generating leads. Not only will you hear where the opportunities are in the market, you’ll open doors to new customers. People will spread the word. They’ll recommend you. They’ll keep you in mind for when they need what you offer. They’ll buy from you.
But remember, it’s two way.
When I said some of the most successful people I know are the best networkers, it’s because they’re also among some of the most generous people I know too.
They care about people. They give them time. They turn up to their events and launches. They give them support and encouragement. They spread the word about what they’re doing to people they think will be interested.
And, most importantly, they listen to others.
So, treat your network like a community rather than a series of transactions or a place to dump promotions and run. Create opportunities to support each other, cheer each other on and collaborate.
The keys to networking success.
Whether you have no connections or already have quite the community built up, it’s always good to grow and nurture your network.
Opportunities are all around. For example, there are industry networks, professional networks, business support networks, special interest networks and, in larger companies, internal networks too. And, if you can’t find the network that’s for you, why not be the one to set it up and invite others?
Wherever you are, many networks run events that you can attend like talks, workshops, exhibitions, conferences, virtual meetups, dinners and so on.
You can book on, turn up and be a guest or – in time – get more involved.
They could be looking for hosts, facilitators and speakers. Maybe there are initiatives to support or there are opportunities to be elected as a trustee or director. Maybe they need special advisors or experts to consult.
These opportunities are a great way to get known and demonstrate what you can do.
As Denzel Washington says in the film Training Day – “It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove”. Getting involved in the right networks is a great way to show what you’re capable of and be memorable.
So, how do you network brilliantly?
1. Do your homework.
Research the networks that could be relevant to you.
- Which could be useful now?
- Which could be beneficial in the future?
Think about people you’d like in your community. Find out where they hang out and explore ways you could meet them.
Take time to understand each network and each person. Understand their objectives, how they work and their preferences.
Remember, when you do this exercise, it’s important to consider not just what you could get out of a network or relationships with individuals, but what you can give too.
It takes time to build relationships so networking with your future in mind could help you open doors ready for when you need them, in a way that feels genuine.
2. Before you attend, get prepared.
Understand the people who are part of the network. Consider what their focuses are and what they may be interested in talking about. Some events publish a list of delegates in advance. If so, use this in your research.
Find out if there is an agenda or any expectations or if meetings are open, so you know what to expect on the day.
Also know your goals. This will depend on your current focuses, the network’s focuses and who typically attends.
Are you looking to…
- Get new contacts?
- Build partnerships?
- Open up new opportunities?
- Find customers?
- Get people interested in doing business with you in the future?
- Something else?
Once you’re clear on this, decide what you need to bring with you.
3. Have something to say.
Networking is an art. It helps to come armed with conversation points to avoid the risk you’ll get talking about the traffic or weather over coffee and then conversation dries up.
Prepare an introductory pitch and practice delivering it in a conversational way.
Your pitch should get across…
- What you offer.
- What’s original about you and the way you do it.
- The action you’d like people to take. For example, you might want them to ask for more information if they’re interested, sign up to your newsletter or take a brochure.
Having your pitch clear in your head will help you make a strong impression when you’re put on the spot.
Think about questions you could ask others too. Good questions show you are genuinely interested in the people you’re talking with. It can also help you draw out useful insights.
Likewise, think about the questions that could come your way.
How you will answer them?
4. Jump in.
When you join an event, whether virtually or in person, the most important thing is to not hang around on the side lines but jump in.
Remember that you’ve come prepared. Knowing this, you can step into any networking event feeling confident whether you know anyone there or not.
Even if you feel nervous, the quicker you get into conversation, the quicker you’ll feel more comfortable.
All you need to do is find common ground and get talking.
But, don’t get stuck in one place and don’t only hang out with the people you know. Work the room. And, be sure not to do all the talking.
Never forget that great networkers are great listeners.
5. Fire up your network.
Wherever you make your contacts, don’t just let them be a number in your phone or an email address on your system.
Follow-up. Stay in touch. It’s easier to do this than it’s ever been. Know how your contacts engage outside of events. Do they like to meet up separately, stay in touch on LinkedIn or other social media channels? Are they a regular at networking events?
Leave the door open when you meet and find ways to keep the conversation going.
Fire them up. Keep your network alive, inspire them to take an interest. Show how great you are at what you do so they’ll want to hear from you and keep you in mind.
And, do the same for them.
When you build a meaningful network and fire them up, you transform a group of people into an influential community and your greatest opportunity.
- Networks are powerful. Who you know is as important as what you do. A great network is your biggest asset.
- Networking is two-way. Prepare well so you know your audience before meeting. Have things to talk about and remember that it’s equally important to listen. You want to be seen as genuine and hear about the insights and opportunities they share.
- Follow-up. When you meet someone once, it’s like a transaction. When you build upon this, keep the conversations going and come together over mutual interests, meaningful relationships develop. Contacts become customers, partners and ambassadors on your growth journey.