Networking… Can you think of a word that fills most people with a sense of dread?
For many people I talk to, it ranks right up there with public speaking and paying taxes. The thought of walking into a room filled with strangers and holding meaningless conversations with various brands of snake oil salesman makes the average person want to commit hari-kari. Yet, it is a necessary evil, right? Just something we must tolerate as we seek to grow our businesses or improve our careers.
Unfortunately, these beliefs serve to limit us. Building your personal network can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things you do if you do it properly. Believe it or not, by not building and deepening you network, you may be unconsciously causing yourself quite a bit of stress. You see, while our society has evolved at lightning speed, our brains and bodies still work the way they did 10,000 years ago.
So, while your neocortex, the part of your brain that you believe is “you”, can adapt to all the new smart technology, the limbic brain, which controls your internal process, still responds to things the way it would have ten centuries ago.
I know you are asking, so what does this have to do with networking? Everything. You see, 10,000 years ago, much more recently than that, man found it very difficult to live on his own. Part of our nature is to live within clusters or tribes. People worked together to hunt, farm, build or whatever it took to survive as a team. Living by yourself was not an option. As a matter of fact, banishment was considered a death sentence.
In today’s society, most of us live largely disconnected. I realized this a few years back when I decided to run for public office. The district for the particular office I ran for, Atlanta City Council, was roughly five miles square. This may be hard to believe at first, but after I started my campaign I realized that no one I knew, except my next-door neighbor, could actually vote for me. To be fair, I was born and raised in another city, so I knew I would have some catching up to do, but it was quite jarring to me as I went through my contact lists and realized that no one lived in my district.
When I repeat this story to others I find out it is quite a common occurrence, caused and supported by our disconnected lifestyle. The internet has brought so much convenience to our lives but has actually put up a barrier to real connection. Instant messaging and facetiming, just don’t fully replace close personal connection. The good news is that it is not too late. You can begin where you are to build a strong personal network by following a few easy steps.
GARDENING INSTEAD OF HUNTING:
The biggest issue people have with networking events is that you either feel like a hunter or prey. “Either I am going to get something out of somebody, or they or going to get something out of me”. When they have gotten what they want, a sale or a job, they will have nothing else to do with me, or vice-versa.
This is the wrong imagery. Think of your network like you would a nice garden in your backyard. You water, fertilize, and otherwise care for plants until they are ready to harvest. It is a symbiotic relationship.
You give to the plant until one day you harvest the fruit. You don’t expect the plant to bear fruit on the first day or even the first month, you just continue to care for it until the day you have a need. The same is true for relationships. Think of a business card as a seed that you plant in your garden. Some won’t thrive due to timing, or maybe it’s not a good fit for what you are looking for. But the ones that do, you nurture.
Just like you have to actually plant seeds in your garden you have to follow up with folks you meet.
How many business cards have you collected over the years that sit on your desk gathering dust. The reason we do this is because of the hunter/prey mentality. If I don’t have the need for a house, insurance, software, car etc. right now, there is no need to talk to that person, right. Wrong! The best time to build and nurture a relationship is when you don’t need anything. There is nothing more refreshing than to receive a call from someone who doesn’t need anything and just wants to check in.
OFFER YOUR HELP:
Now take your follow up one step further. Offer to help your new contact in some way, maybe make a referral or post their product/service on social media. These things don’t cost a dime, but make a big impression, simply because it happens so rarely.
The key to nurturing relationships is give – then ask. You would be surprised how that simple formula can change your life. You may think that you have nothing to give but trust me you do. Everybody needs something, and it’s not always money. One technique I use is to include the words, “so, what can I help you with” into most conversations. You don’t have to commit to everything, but the fact that you asked will be memorable and valued.
Just like in a real garden some of your contacts will end up being weeds. It’s not that they are bad people, they are just not a good fit for your garden.
If you have someone in your contact list who is a perpetual time waster, resource hog, liar or just someone you wouldn’t refer business to, then you have to remove them from your list. Don’t hesitate or wait for them to change. They probably won’t, and your energy is too valuable to waste on bad relationships.
Just like picking fruit in your garden, it is ok to ask for help when you need it. If you have followed the above steps you should have little problem when you do need a job, sale, or reference.
Ray Abram is an experienced consultant, speaker and performance coach who has worked with clients at Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, Cox Media, Google, Sony and Viacom as well as smaller, more entrepreneurial ventures. He uses his consultative style and technological prowess to help you discover “your best self” and then provide tools to help maintain your new found “you”.