Someone recently asked me, “How can I become a stronger networker and turn relationships into business?” I thought about the question for a while before answering. What have I gained from the multitude of events and professional mixers I have attended through the years? It was not always easy for me to network, how did it become so natural?
The answer? Networking is work and a skill that takes practice. And it’s not unlike working out.
I had weak abs before I decided to focus on them. Now I can do 200 sit ups. It was hard at first, but I kept at it. Networking is no different. You have to keep working that muscle. Keep walking into that room full of people you don’t know, tamp down that anxiety. Start small. Make milestones. “I will meet five new people today.” Then 7, then 10.
The more you do something, the more natural it becomes.
The Wall Street Journal recently published a story, “Networking Isn’t Always Easy. But It Is Critical.” It had some great information on forging meaningful networks, and I have a few tips of my own that I think can help bring out the networker in you.
1. Generosity should be at the core of any approach.
I go into any networking situation thinking about how I can help the person sitting across from me, not how they can help me. This reframing aligns with my Southern upbringing and helps me form lasting bonds with people. Then, if I do have something to ask for down the line, it feels more natural.
A study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. found that women have fewer ties to colleagues inside and outside of work than men. Getting more comfortable asking for help is the key, and being overly generous with your own time and resources is a great way to build the rapport that makes asking for favors easier when you need some help.
2. Make the time to network.
Just like other business people, I want to get home at a reasonable hour. So for me, breakfast is a productive time. I can meet with someone for 45 minutes before I get into the office and feel like I have achieved something substantive early on in the day. Find times that work best for you.
3. Look to build two different types of relationships:
The first type is with people you are interested in learning from. Reaching out to someone by complimenting their work and asking if they want to get together is easier than you think. Anytime I find myself in a relationship where I regularly leave that person feeling more learned… I want more. Knowledge sharing is addictive!
The second type is more in line with prospecting and has to do with meeting people who you would like to do business with directly. This kind of relationship takes some time to get comfortable with, as the asks tend to be a bit more aggressive. I find industry meetings are a great place to establish common ground and reach out to set up coffee or a meal. Once you’ve set the meeting up its critically important to do your homework. Ask yourself, “How can I help them solve a problem?” At the meeting, fearlessly listen while they speak and provide specific ways you can add value to their business.
4. Utilize your current network to build your future one.
The longer you have been in business the more people you tend to know who can help you build your network. You just have to ask—and offer to do the same in return for them. This reciprocity is the foundation of building a powerful network. When you find your existing network isn’t growing, make an introduction between two like-minded people that have aligned business, personal or philanthropic interests. This process of receiving through giving inevitability leads to a more robust network.
In my mind I have consciously re-framed networking into something similar to what “hunting” once was—a skill necessary for survival. I find I meet really interesting people, share my knowledge generously and receive it in return. The more people I interact with the more knowledgeable I become, and thus have more to offer. The hunting season is always open in the business world and I hope this makes it a bit easier for you to join in.
Written by Barri Rafferty, CEO of North America for Ketchum