Hands up if you dread networking – or even the word “networking”?
People often view it negatively because they don’t enjoy it. Others feel like they’ve been used by someone at a networking event. For me, networking is something I really love. So I stopped to think, why do I love it and what do I do differently that makes it a positive experience for me?
I think a lot of it is down to attitude. I don’t regard networking as simply chatting to someone at an event, exchanging business cards and then never following up, or chatting to someone to use them.
When I attend an event, I always have a goal – to meet cool people and learn something new. For me, the best way is to work out how to connect and relate to people as individuals. I truly enjoy connecting with people, and my network extends across the globe. It has helped me create three multi-million pound businesses, and develop lasting friendships. When I meet someone, I try to learn from their life experiences by asking questions. As they share their story I learn from what they have done right and I try to learn how I can avoid their mistakes.
For me there are four points to keep in mind when you’re connecting: the four Cs.
People are smart. People are intuitive. They can tell if someone is a taker and if they are going to be used, by how they are communicated to. If you want to network effectively, you need to show genuine care. If you can relate to someone for who they are, rather than a prospect, and connect with them as a person, not just for what they do in their business, then you’re much more likely to be memorable to them, and have a successful interaction. People will expect you to ask who they are, what they do, their position. The best way to genuinely connect with the person is to ask them a general question about a topic they’re interested in.
Ask questions and encourage the person to tell a story about that topic. If you talk about a subject near to their heart, they feel comfortable and enjoy talking with you. It could be sport, a hobby, the latest celebrity gossip, a film they recently saw, a favourite book, or it could be a world event like the Olympics.
I recently met a guy who was a pilot. I asked him where is the most unique place he’s had to land a plane and his favourite airport. It was interesting for me and he enjoyed sharing his experiences, so we both had a genuine and enjoyable conversation. I’ll remember him because of the connection we made from his pilots experience and my love of travel.
When I meet someone at an event, I’ll ask them what’s happening in their life – the good, the bad and the ugly. And as we talk, I sometimes ask them how I can help. They’re often surprised as some people are never offered help – and they have to stop for a minute and think what would really benefit them. They might want to talk through a challenge they’re facing in their business or personal life, or I might be able to connect them with someone who could assist them.
If I can help them, then in one month, three months, six months down the line, when I need assistance, I’ll feel comfortable calling them and asking for their support or expertise. It’s a great way of building goodwill, a good reputation and it’s a nice feeling to help others. I enjoy helping people, and I know that if I need support from my network, I can call them and they’ll respond, because they know I have done, or would do the same.
I am a natural connector. I enjoy introducing people to each other and helping them to figure out how they can mutually benefit from a new connection. Questions you can ask yourself are: what two people can you connect in your network? As I talk, connect and network with people, I am always thinking at the back of my mind who might be useful to the person I’m speaking to. Often you can have two seemingly unrelated people in different sectors and magic happens when they start talking.
When I meet a person who is fund-raising for their business, I’ll offer to connect them with a friend who had raised millions of pounds who can share their learning and experience. The expression is six degrees of separation: I am continually surprised when I learn it’s one or two degrees between you and the person you need to connect with.
You can’t expect to be successful at networking if you only turn up to an event once. Be consistent and demonstrate longevity and sustainability, especially if you’re networking within your industry. I regularly attend events and conferences in my sector. My approach is to be consistent with my attendance, donate my time to groups and boards, and give back without expectations.
A golden rule: in order to build your credibility and reputation, you need to follow through and deliver on promises. The benefit of going regularly is you get to know people on a personal level, you build relationships and friendships, and it feels less like networking and more like catching up with friends.
If you show you care by being genuine, you co–operate by offering help, you connect by facilitating introductions and you are consistent and visible, then you are able to build your network before you need it. When a critical issue arises, you will not only know the person you need to speak with, but will have a personal relationship and can reach out to them directly.