Article originally published on Angel Connect
I have a lot of things I wish they had taught me in Business school and Networking is one of them. Of course there was never enough time to add this topic to the curriculum.
As an entrepreneur Networking is one of the most important skills you need to develop. The good news is that it’s not complex and you don’t need to study. The trickier part for some of you techie types is that it involves people skills or otherwise known as ‘soft skills’.
As a positive way to get into this subject remember only one word when it comes to improving your Networking skills: Attitude.
Regardless if you are starting to understand what Networking is all about or you feel that you are pretty comfortable with the concept one constant remains the same: Your attitude.
I network every day to build my business. The results have been shall I say, rewarding. To some, Networking may seem obvious, for others dreadful but in order for me to help you improve your skills I have found that there are 7 reasons why people network:
1) Sales, prospecting and developing a customer base
If you are selling an idea, a product, your company or you as a person, Networking is a very efficient means of getting your message out there and selling. In sales lingo this is referred to ‘personal selling’.
2) Meet new people
Don’t like the hard sell? That’s OK, people network to meet other people. Social media like Facebook (FB) and LinkedIn (LI) are based on the concept of meeting people online and creating networks of friends and like-minded individuals, acquaintances or business associates. There are no shortages of people (in many cases unknown to you) that want to become your friend on Facebook or LinkedIn. This is a fairly easy operation to set up in FB or LI. The Networking I want to convey here however requires a bit more effort and courage which turns into better, tangible results.
3) It’s the right thing to do
The more people we get to know, the more we learn about a variety of topics. We also get wiser in the process. In fact every time I meet a new person I learn something new and I push myself to meet a new person every day for that very reason of learning something new. Sure some people are hard to figure out but every time you buy something or use something or learn something, ultimately someone was responsible for making that product or service happen.
4) Because ‘we’ve given up’
Let’s face it starting a business or always being at the edge of your game and winning isn’t easy. At times it’s exhilarating because you signed the deal, you surpassed the goal, you found a new client or you got the financing. Other times you feel alone, frustrated and you start questioning everything: You, your approach and your track record. This is where Networking can provide some form of therapy. The person you are speaking to can either: 1) confirm what you have been doing will eventually work if you persist, 2) give you some tips on how to get unstuck or 3) remind you of some basic truths that have worked for them.
End result: You become energized, you feel that you are back on track and you will use that new tip starting tomorrow. Total cost: 1 hour of your time and 2 coffees. How is that for an investment?
5) It’s Win-Win, not win-lose
Recently I caught up a with a very successful investment banking professional. This fellow had written a book on investment banking and although I had not developed many investment deals business for us to work on, I wanted to keep him in my network. A year passed and by this time investments were scarce in Romania. He had asked me to join him for dinner to update him on business intentions and because I did not want to miss my opportunity to meet him, I agreed to join him for dinner.
As I thought of ways of telling him that there were not going to be any investment deals coming anytime soon, I decided to be straight and tell him that I did not have any leads for us to work on. ‘No problem Paul, I wanted to meet you just the same’ was his reply.
As we continued our discussion I had asked him if he had been approached at times by executive recruiters for board of director appointments. He told me that recently it was more common as boards wanted more transparency. Then I shared with him a board appointment lead I had received. Clearly I did not meet the requirements for this global insurance company but I knew that he would. I showed him the email and he asked me to introduce him to the recruiter, which I did.
Essentially thinking this meeting would be a waste of time for both of us, this fellow walked away with a lead from me without even asking. I gave him the lead since I believed that it was one way of keeping our network open and cementing our relationship, even if I didn’t get any investment leads or opportunities.
I also gave him the lead because fundamentally Networking means ‘Win-Win’ and a ‘you do something for me and I will do something for you’ approach will not help anyone. When you network and remain alert, you will always end up getting information, advice, insights, a contact, a lead or an enhanced business relationship – even when you don’t expect it. I call this Win-Win. If you don’t feel that it’s Win-Win then it’s probably because you; a) need to work on improving your attitude, b) you were not showing a genuine interest in that person or c) you just were not paying attention.
6) Because sometimes you get surprises
Let’s face it. There’s a pretty good chance that you will get mixed reactions when you try to network with someone – anywhere from a cold shoulder to warm hospitality. I tried a different approach recently (part of my research on Networking). As I was taking a non-aggressive approach to Networking my coaching services, I would tell my audience first by email that I am, reaching out to them for ‘advice’. I actually put ‘advice‘in the subject line of the email. In other words, by reaching out with my email I would not try to sell them anything but rather I was looking for some advice on the subject of Coaching.
Think about it. When someone asks you for some advice are you more open to discuss and talk rather when someone is trying to sell you something?
The outbound emails were well received. People agreed to take my call as I asked them a variety of opinions and questions about coaching. At the end I would ask them if they were interested in getting the services of a coach.
The reactions were mixed: ‘No’, ‘I’m not sure’, ‘maybe’, ‘I’ll ask HR’, yet the feedback I received was useful to me in terms of opinions, insights and tips about coaching such as verticals that may be open to coaching, friends or peers that have followed a coaching protocol and so on.
The pleasant surprise is when I was not expecting any leads but insights from a peer-a Romanian lady working in the UK when she proceeded to give me 7 leads. I was shocked.
When I told her that I appreciated all these leads she replied…’isn’t that why you called me… to get some potential coaching leads? Were you not calling to network and to see if can help develop your business Paul’?
Here was a peer telling me the benefits of Networking and giving me 7 names in the process – a pleasant surprise indeed.
7) To get better clients
My accountant Dragos made me laugh the other day. He is probably one the best accountants in the business but when it comes to Networking, this is an area he would rather avoid like the Plague. He is technically competent, works solo yet he is a bit shy.
One day I told Dragos that I had a great lead for him. I had met a Dutch national at a business conference and he was new in town and he was looking for a good accountant. I mentioned to him that I would connect him with Dragos, my accountant.
When I shared this lead with Dragos he replied: ‘No thanks’.
I said what?!… You don’t want the business? You don’t want a new client?
Dragos added: ‘It’s not that I don’t want new clients – I just want good clients.
Good clients pay well, they are dependable and predictable. You don’t waste time second guessing them on payment deadlines, you don’t waste time collecting and they in turn send you new business’.
Here I was with my North American ‘Sell like hell’ approach, or ‘Let’s invade the nation by getting as much business as you can‘ drive, trying to help my accountant get new clients to which he says: No thanks.
In his view getting the right business made more sense.
Networking in this case takes a more filtered, screened, segmented approach for Dragos. He will network and connect with a new lead when it comes from a very strong reference.
Turns out that his method works well for Dragos – that is how he got me as a client; through a strong reference. Networking for him is not always about volume of contacts but more about getting the right contacts.
These 7 reasons should motivate you to seek that new contact, reach out to more people and also give back in the process, hence Win-Win.
Aside from keeping your attitude ‘in check’ remember that Networking is not the means to an end but rather it’s one way to grow your business.