Why you should network, and how to do it properly…

Networking is frequently, and wrongfully, maligned. At times it can seem like people’s blatant and desperate attempts to get themselves or their business noticed, but if you find yourself in that kind of situation, simply walk away. Learn how to network properly, and you will realise the benefits tenfold in addition to connecting with all the right people.

The key to building successful networks is simple: make authentic and sincere connections. So what if you don’t need the services of a family lawyer or an IT specialist right now? That’s not to say that you, a friend, or a colleague won’t need their services in future. Look at networking as another way of making friends – and that extends to people in your own industry, and even those in the same position as you at another company.

Think about it this way: do you know whether you are still going to be in your current position, or working for your current employer, in six months, two years, or five years from now? Stop seeing people as threats and/or competitors – think of them as friends who may recommend you for a position in future instead. Look for opportunities to connect, share ideas, and problem solve collaboratively. When you are at an event, meeting, or dinner party take the time to listen, ask questions, and be open to learning – you’ll be surprised at the results. In the best case scenario, you’ll end up with a potential business partner or new employment opportunity, at worst you’ll end up with a better perspective of how to deal with a range of different people.

Here are some rules of thumb I’ve found really effective:
• When I speak to someone, my phone is nowhere in sight. I give them my complete focus and concentration.
• I keep people’s business cards (mostly electronically, via the scanning feature on my smartphone).
• I connect with them on LinkedIn after meeting them in person, and follow up with a mail, DM, or phone call within a week. This applies to everyone, I meet – even if they work in totally unrelated industries.
• I mention something about our conversation I particularly valued, then add some additional questions about it, or I send them links I think they’d be interested in.
• I take the time to respond to any queries or comments they send me. It is both disrespectful and disingenuous when you simply do not bother to respond to someone. Ignoring someone sends a message loud and clear: you’re not someone they want to do business with, now or in future. Of course, there are exceptions to this: do not respond to anyone sending you inappropriate or unprofessional messages.

To make the most of networking, keep conversations going, meet for coffee, and be completely present. Be genuine, patient, and encouraging in every interaction. People take away more from conversations than you realise, and they also remember you for a greater length of time if you make a good impression. No one has lost a thing by supporting another person, or by sharing ideas. Inspiring people is contagious, and sincerity wins hearts and minds. I can guarantee that you will reap rewards in the short-, medium-, and long-term: I still get referrals through people I met when I started my first full-time job. Try these networking tips for yourself and see what they can do for you.

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