In the business world, we’re often advised to network. Need to attract some new clients? Network. Wish you had a knowledgeable mentor? Network. The fact is, networking is a valuable and effective tool that can enrich and advance your career or company when you use it properly. But many of us are wasting our time with a type of networking that is not working.
I see many people investing a lot of time and energy in meeting new people and making those people like them. The problem is, they’re making connections with the wrong people or they’re approaching the right people the wrong way. As the founder and CEO of a multi-million dollar company, I didn’t achieve my current level of success by having breakfast with the same 16 people every Wednesday. I cultivated selective relationships with careful planning.
I started my professional life as a nurse, and I later started a company that consults with attorneys on medical-related cases. People often comment that I must have known a lot of attorneys when I started my business, but the truth is, I didn’t. I didn’t live in their neighborhoods or get invited to their parties. What I did was reinvent traditional networking.
To achieve results, you need to know who can help you and where you can meet them. You also need to build meaningful relationships once you do meet the right people. It’s all about being smart and being selective.
If you want results, consider these 10 tips:
Don’t just socialize—select. Many people confuse networking with simply being friendly. True networking isn’t just hanging out and being friendly—it’s meeting the right people. Remember, successful people are selective about where and with whom they network. They don’t expect a block party to change their businesses. Instead, they research what they need, they locate its source and then they connect.
Make sure your group makes sense. Even among professionals, you must still continue to be selective. You won’t necessarily find the people you need at your typical networking social hour. You must create a personalized network of colleagues, clients, consultants, vendors and acquaintances whom you can depend on to provide information and referrals.
When choosing a group to join or an event to attend, research the members or guest list before you commit. A woman I know joined a networking group that a friend had recommended. But none of the group members had anything to do with her profession. She stuck it out for a year and—surprise—got absolutely no business. Once she joined a group for attorneys, accountants and bankers, all of which related directly to her own profession, her career took off. Research the makeup of a group before you join or the guest list of an event before you RSVP.
Get outside your comfort zone. People tend to gravitate toward those who are similar. That’s fine when it comes to your friendships, but you need a different approach when it comes to networking. Make every effort to meet people who are more experienced than you are. If you impress someone who is more successful than you are, they’ll have a lot more influence than someone whose position is equivalent with yours.
Know when to move on. No matter how selective you were on the front end, don’t make the mistake of giving any particular individual or group all of your time if you aren’t seeing results or getting quality advice. Remember, networking is about business, not pleasure.
Instead of casting a wide net, go after individual fish. When you cast a wide net, you might garner a large number of possible contacts, but you won’t have time to build a strong relationship with each of them. However, when you focus on one or two specific contacts at a time, you’ll get to know their wants and needs, and they’ll have a better understanding of yours.
Develop a system for keeping up with details. How often have you met a bunch of different people at an event, then returned home without cultivating any of those relationships? You probably went right into planning mode for the next event on your schedule. Instead, put the information you learn from and about people to work. Software and apps exist to help keep track of important details about people immediately after you meet them. When you meet someone new, take note (electronically) of what the person looked like, what you discussed and one or two things you found unique about that person. That way, when you reach out to him or her, you can mention something specific that will allow you to make a stronger, more lasting connection.
Manage the follow up. Rubbing elbows at one or two events with a new contact does not automatically create a beneficial relationship. When you do check in with a new contact, find a way to create value. Send her an article that might interest her or connect her with a potential new customer or adviser. Tell her you recently put her advice to work, and thank her for her valuable insight. Create reasons to stay in touch and keep the relationship growing.
Don’t wait until you need something to follow up. Be careful that you’re not constantly reaching out to new contacts and asking for this or that, or they might feel you are taking advantage of them. Show how you can benefit the person as well.
Network outside social media. Networking through social media is one way to make a connection, but it shouldn’t be the only way. Simply having an online connection with a huge group of people is not going to drive that much action for you. Connect with people offline to form meaningful relationships with them. Write them personal letters or thank you notes, or pick up the phone and call them. You simply can’t lose when you create a systematic way for staying in touch.
Give as much as you get. Successful networking is a two-way street. Most of us start by asking for help and advice, but as we become more knowledgeable and successful, we gain the means to help others. Whenever possible, give more inexperienced people a piece of advice whenever you can.
On the flip side, no matter how successful you become, do whatever you can to help those who have helped you. If you are there for someone in your network, he or she will probably be there for you in the future.
To network successfully, be smart about who you spend your time with. Always engage in powerful and meaningful networking, not just a pocketful of business cards and a glass of cheap white zinfandel. And never stop expecting high performance from your network. If it’s not productive, move on.
Vickie Milazzo, owner of Vickie Milazzo Institute, is the author of The New York Times bestseller “Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman” (Wiley, 2011, WickedSuccess.com). Milazzo shares the innovative success strategies that earned her a place on the Inc. lists of Top 10 Entrepreneurs and Top 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies in America.