2010 is a year of many trend setting activities not to differentiate from previous years. If we didn’t show signs of change then we would not have so many end of the year periodicals, lists, blogs and opinions about the year that was. In a world overshadowed by economic turmoil, housing collapses, unemployment levels reaching record highs and tension mounting, one of the trends that has come out of this pile of uncertainty is the need for strong efforts in networking.
What is networking and what makes your endeavors a success or failure?
Some view networking in numbers. How many people can I connect with on Linkedin or Twitter
Some view successful networking as a hands on approach – Conferences, charity events, seminars, etc.
Some take the magnet approach – Throw it and see what sticks. How many business cards can I give out and hopes one of them will call me. Of course some also take this approach toward job applications.
Maintaining periodic contact with former colleagues, vendors, suppliers or classmates is another way to develop an effective networking strategy.
Some approaches can be successful but one must always remember a few key principles of networking.
1.) It takes time. Networking is like a fine red wine. It takes time to age but when you finally open it, the rewards are bountiful.
2.) Networking needs compassion, trust, and respect. We will get into this further on in this article, but the bottom line is don’t be a selfish networker. You know who you are. You only reach out to people when you need something. You play the sales role well by shaking hands, taking cards and buying a drink or two but never follow up unless you need something. Bad, bad, bad networker.
3.) Diversify your network. Now I sound like Jim Cramer. Use a variety of means of networking including face to face, social media and internal corporate channels. Do not limit yourself, but also do not over extend yourself.
4.) Continue to evolve and grow. As your professional, personal, volunteer, publications, events, and other aspects of your life add to your life summary, update that information and ensure that all the individuals in your network are aware of how well you are developing and diversifying.
5.) Be cautious of hitchhikers. There is nothing wrong with aligning yourself with open networkers but be careful of their message and what they are trying to gain. Aligning yourself with the wrong individuals could have an adverse affect on your reputation.
6.) Be generous but be aware. Be generous with how your share your time and connections but do not over use your power. Your closest networking counterparts put a tremendous amount of trust in you and if you use them too much that is an abuse of the trust and it could damage a relationship.
Compassion in Networking
I would now like to take a moment to talk about the second bullet point for a few moments: Networking needs compassion. I have had the fortunate opportunity to live in various regions throughout the United States and abroad in Western Europe. I have been engrossed in unique cultures and observed trends of behavior. Some regions are more in tune than others when it comes to developing and harnessing long term network relationships.
Over the last several months I have connected with a Young Entrepreneurs group, two art gallery owners, a photography and a band all offering free assistance on effective online marketing and branding strategies. All were enthusiastic and welcomed the ideas I had to share. I left it to their initiative to schedule time and we would get the ball rolling. Not one took me up on the offer, but most remembered me. In this region, networking for a better term is very fickle. It is about immediate give and take, not long term personal connections. This is a part of the country that is comfortable with the status quo. They make a humble living and are content or perhaps afraid of the possibility of change or success. Without the benefit of reading minds, I cannot determine the truth factor.
Whether they didn’t come to me because I didn’t buy an expensive art or photography piece may be a reason or the fear of taking the next step toward success or they didn’t want to take the time to see if they could trust me. No matter what, these were examples of potential strong long term relationships where I take an admiration for their work and in return offered an expertise that could help them grow.
If we all look at our professional connections on Linkedin, Twitter, Plaxo, Facebook, Myspace, Digg, Slideshare, Ushi, Ning, etc, etc, etc, many of us will draw the same conclusion: there are only a few trusted people in my network community I would trust with my life and many more I can count on. Why does that list narrow down so quickly? Networking with compassion.
A true networking relationship is a partnership between two people. It is built on respect, space, compassion, and time. Like any relationship similar to a marriage or family, it takes time to build and develop and maintain. Once that bond is secure it is permanent.
Last year, a very close friend of mine was trying to get into medical systems for a military development installation post and I reached out to a program manager for new army development programs that I worked with over 9 years earlier to see if he had any connections. This was a gentleman whom I had not exchanged a word with in nearly a decade but he responded to me quickly and provided me with assistance with my request. That is a strong bond that connect be broken.
I was not abusing my privilege and not asking for anything in return. The reason we have networks is that every one of us has an expertise and a community. We are blessed with certain talents and paths in life that have gotten us to this point. We rely on others who have followed different paths to complete us.
If you build a strong relationship, do not abuse your privileges or take on a give and take attitude. Show compassion in your partnership thus making you an amazing networker and in return you will be surrounded by all the right people.