Not sure how to network?
Too many people who recognize the incredible value of networking think that building a network means amassing a ton of connections. It’s easy to do – ask someone to join your LinkedIn network, or to follow you on Instagram, or to a friend or “like” you on Facebook, or to collect dozens of business cards at a networking event. You may take comfort in the fact that you have hundreds and hundreds of connections, but superficial connections are essentially worthless. You can’t expect any kind of meaningful interaction with someone who doesn’t remember your name. “…There’s more value in leaving an event with one new friend or acquaintance that you can develop a mutually beneficial relationship with than contact information for fifty people you didn’t spend any time getting to know.*”
A great book on how to cultivate more beneficial relationships is titled “Super Connector,” by Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh. The book’s premise is that amassing contacts is of little value and that instead emphasis needs to be placed on building business relationships that matter. In fact, the authors reject the term “networking” to describe this and instead propose “connecting” as a more valuable term. Connecting in a very real, and deep, sense. In its best form, this involves facilitating connections between people with similar interests and goals, interests and goals that you share.
A point that they repeatedly emphasize is that the kind of connection they talk about takes time. It’s about slowly building communities of mutual interest. The platforms upon which to build these communities might already exist (for example through a MeetUp like DC Young Entrepreneurs), or you might need to launch an affinity group yourself, perhaps relying on a pre-existing contact list (like an alumni database).
An important initial step is to utilize techniques that will allow you to effectively engage with people who you are meeting for the first time, launching a relationship that will have value down the road. An example: rather than, upon being introduced to someone, asking “What do you do?” you might be better off inquiring “What are you working on right now? The latter question could spark your curiosity, and result in more meaningful dialogue, than would a “career label” answer like “I’m a lawyer.” Follow up questions could be along the line of:
“What do you like the most about what you’re doing?”
“What’s the most challenging part of what you’re doing right now?”
“Is this the kind of work you imagined you’d be doing a few years ago?”
After you’ve embarked on the initial stages of connecting you want to focus on finding ways to add value to the people you’re looking to build relationships with. The authors write: “We are fond of ‘surprising and delighting” people whenever possible. Every so often, totally at random, we will surprise (and delight!) one of our community members with something completely unexpected.”
That’s just one of the many useful strategies recommended by the authors. To be a truly effective “super connector,” though, you need to employ a wide range of techniques. Interestingly, these techniques might, on the surface, appear less than genuine, and perhaps even manipulative, but to be most effective they need to come from a heartfelt place. That place is easier to find than you might imagine if you appreciate that the best kind of networking inevitable results in “win/win” situations.