If you agree that successful networking is a necessity in any career or business success, are you up to accepting a networking challenge right now?
A Networking Challenge (Audio)
How good are you at developing and maintaining a professional business network? Are you a connector? Is networking easy and fun for you, or is it a struggle? How would you like to be really good at it? What would that improve for you? Are you up to a networking challenge?
Would you agree with me that being good at building and maintaining a network of business contacts is one of today’s key success factors for business owners, professionals as well as business leaders? That this is not only a requirement for sales people, but all business people? I happen to believe that. Why? Because in the last 10 years since I have been running my own business, that’s where virtually all of my business came from – from referrals from within my network. And of all the employed leaders and business owners I have coached and mentored, virtually every one of them has acknowledged the value they have seen and “banked” from enhancing their networking skills.
I have found that many leaders that I coach and mentor agree that it is important, but that they have neglected the development of a strong network. Why? Too busy has been the most common response. And then many people admitted that they found it took them out of their comfort zone to pro-actively go out to “network”.
By the way, if you are new to this and struggling with the notion of introducing yourself to a stranger, you might find my blog How to start Networking helpful, in which I share and describe some very fundamental approaches and techniques that I learned the hard way.
Who Do You Know That…?
I am a “people person”. I get my energy from being around people. I have always been a networker, that is to say someone who loves meeting new people as well as being and staying in touch with people I have met and then facilitating connections between them. I thrive on that, and I am very good at it.
My network has always been an extension of my value proposition to my clients. Nobody can provide a client with everything that they need or want; nobody. However, when you recognize a need or want that you can’t fill, do you instinctively think: “who do I know that…?”and then reach for the phone?
In my blog The Trust Triangle I speak of a “golden rule” when it comes to networking. If you and I have a trusted relationship built up over a track record of years of Trust and Respect then there is no way that either of us would refer a “dill” to the other, would we? That could undermine our relationship which we both value.
Isn’t that one of the primary benefits of networking amongst trusted peers? That I know that anyone I refer to another can be completely relied on? Or that I can completely rely on someone you refer to me? I can tell you that those who have ever let me down are no longer in my network, and they know it.
The Tipping Point
I recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point”. It is a definitive work on the subject of networking, amongst much additional fascinating content
He did an excercise in which he randomly extracted 250 names from the Manhattan telephone directory, and asked a few of his friends and associates to count out how many people they knew (that would also know them) that had a surname contained in that list. Eventually he did this “test” with over 400 associates from across his network; from different professions, academic circles, socio-economics etc. The lowest number of names known from that list was 4 and the highest 116. He called those with a score over 100 “Connectors”.
Connectors know lots of people. By being connected in so many different business sectors they have the effect of bringing them all together. Remember, it’s not just who you know – it’s also who they know.
He also describes Mavens (Yiddish for someone who gathers knowledge) as people who are driven and utilize their (business or market) knowledge for their benefit and that of others. It’s their enthusiasm for sharing this knowledge that makes them very good networkers. Think about it – when you have been to a good show which you really thoroughly enjoyed, how enthusiastically do you promote it to others – that “they simply must go and see it”?
I am such a connector (with a Gladwell score over 100). People call me to ask “who do you know that….?” and I find it easy to call the right people when I or one of my associates or clients needs something and ask: “who do you know that…?”
I have facilitated countless role connections, helping friends, associates, peers and clients place CEO’s, GM’s, project managers, sales people and all sorts of professionals from within my network, applying the trust triangle and saving massive amounts of recruitment fees.
Another good indicator of your standing within your network is how many people call to ask you to be a reference for them.
There are more business and professional networking organisations that you can point a stick at. I won’t go into them all here, but hope you will allow me to just describe a few which I have found most useful in my business journey.
I am an accredited Associate of the Institute for Independent Business (www.iib.ws), a network of professionals that I describe helping small businesses become significant businesses, where we can all draw upon each others’ expertise to provide services for our clients that we ourselves aren’t personally equipped to. I also found this extremely useful to assist me in the transition from being a corporate executive to becoming a successful consultant running my own business.
As a CIO, my external business community was predominantly in the vendor space, other than the network I built amongst my fellow CIO’s and through organisations like Gartner. That network was very important for me to leverage when I went out on my own. I developed it before I needed it, because from very early on, even as an employee I could see its value in my vision of my own future.
I spent one year in the business networking group called Business Networking International (www.bni.com.au). Chapters have around 20-30 members that meet (usually over breakfast or lunch) every week with the sole purpose of finding and referring business to each other. My chapter regularly refers approximately a million Aussie dollars in business between themselves each year. At every meeting every member does a 60 second “infomercial” where they remind their peers what they do in their business and how to recognize a good referral for them. Everyone knows what a printer does, right? But understanding what an executive coach does was not so easy. My primary objective was to hone my “elevator pitch “to a degree that it was easy for me to “educate” and explain to people what it is that I do and what value they can expect from an executive coach.
All the above provide “face to face” network activities. I am a member of many online networks as well; the most well known of course is Linked-In. You can find my connections at http://www.linkedin.com/in/heinerkarst. It is probably the most pervasive of online business contact networks available in the world today with many groups you can join or it is very easy to start your own. It is becoming very well used in the recruitment space and I call it “the FaceBook of business”. I use it all the time as a very useful connections tool.
All of these and countless more provide very good networking exposure. I urge you to research and find the ones that you think will best serve your purpose. Your coach should be able to guide you very well here too.
I provide one on one grooming as well as boardroom or classroom training in networking, having developed my own IP from all my experience that I really love sharing. Networking works if you work it. And I have learned that “the harder I practise – the luckier I get”.
The Business Card Challenge
So after all that introduction and hopefully giving you some insights into why I consider networking so vital to one’s personal and business growth (whether you are an employee or a business owner) I would now like to issue the networking challenge most of my clients “cop”.
Are you up to responding to a networking challenge? Here it is:
In the next 10 weeks, can you set a goal to meet 10 strangers “at your level and above” and within your domain of personal or business interest and develop a conversation with them that will lead to both parties wanting to swap business cards and to be in touch with each other afterwards?
That’s one a week for the next 10 weeks.
So What Next?
So why would accepting such a challenge be of value to you? What would you have gained by getting out of The Comfort Zone and meeting a bunch of new but relevant strangers?
Who or what opportunities might they lead you to? Who might they know that is looking for the kind of services that you or your company provide? How much better could you operate in your job or contract or business if you were to develop a significant personal network of professional business contacts?
And if you are one of those that “knows you should”, why not use this as a catalyst to have a go”?
Allow me to pose the four Cartesian Questions to test you for this challenge:
a) What might happen if you do choose to develop or significantly expand your network?
b) What mightn’t happen if you do choose to develop or significantly expand your network?
c) What might happen if you choose not to develop or significantly expand your network?
d) What mightn’t happen if you choose not to develop or significantly expand your network?
What if you took this challenge seriously and practiced Dancing until it rains in the next 10 weeks to meet or exceed your goal?
What if you could, and what if you did?