“Networking is not about just connecting people. It’s about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities.”  – Michele Jennae

What exactly is “Networking”?

Networking is all about mutually beneficial long-term relationships that you develop with people. It’s all about connecting and it’s not only about sharing information with others and asking for favours.  

The problem is that often the events we choose to attend have little relevance or  value for us.

For most of us, when we network, we do it within the narrow orbit  of our immediate circle, tapping into like-minded circles of sympathetic people.

This is certainly fine but it has limitations over time. Sticking to who and what we know tend to minimise the difference of opinion and experience, breeds laziness, stifles growth and limits potential.

And why should you bother networking? 

If we’re already feeling overwhelmed, confused, overstretched, and overworked, why on earth would we still network? 

It’s simple really…

You can’t get anywhere in life on your own. 

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, names Larry Summers, from. the US Treasury  Department and the World Bank, as her first and most important mentor

Fashion designer Yves St Laurent declares that ’Christian Dior taught me the basis  of my art. I never forgot the years I spent at his side’. 

Facebook’s ‘gladiator’, Mark Zuckerberg, learned about business and management practices from regular meetings with Apple founder Steve Jobs. 

While philanthropist, businessman, and former New York City’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, learned his skills on teamwork and ethics from William R. Saloman, a managing partner of an investment bank where Bloomberg first was employed.

A strong, connected and mutually beneficial network provides you with a series of  stepping stones to success. 

The intentional support of another, with whom you collaborate and share what you know and who you know, pushes you forward in life. 

The active and mutual support of others helps to: 

✓ boost confidence 

✓ achieve clear goals 

✓ open doors to opportunity

✓ create business leads 

✓ support decision making & pave the path to success. 

In his book “Highly Effective Networking“, Orville Pearson writes, ‘When the economy  is good, networking is important. In tough times or tough job markets, networking is  essential.” 

A solid network of key players is like an invisible protective shield. It’s often not the  smartest person in the room who achieves success in life, but the one with the right networks and contacts. 

Read More: In Search of a Mentor? Here are the 5 Things to Look Out For

When & where to network? 

Networking can happen anywhere at any time. 

Whether you’re participating in sports day at school or attending a conference, working out at the gym, or meeting people  in a dance class/ conference, these are all opportunities for networking. 

How has networking personally helped me, in my career? 

Having a network has helped tremendously in shaping my career in multiple ways: 

  • I secured my first corporate job – through my network. 
  • First few major clients in my e-commerce venture… came through my network of  good clients/ friends from my first job… 
  • Second job in China came through my network… 
  • Third job in a media firm came through my network… 
  • Fourth job in a listed multinational IT services firm… came through my network and it’s first and big client came through my networking efforts…
  • I was also able to fulfill my sales  target in this job due to past networking and many more… 

As you can see, building a network that worked for me was critical. In fact, I think it has always been and continues to be a game-changer.

Transactional networking vs. transformational, which one is better? 

Transactional networking does matter and definitely still has a role to play, but you need to be clear on what its role is. 

The old-school approach of transacting relies on  status and quantity-your own talent, previous successes, the title on your business  card, the letters you have after your name and the number of people you know. 

As a  numbers game, it’s essential for business growth, leads and sales generation. 

Transformational networking, on the other hand, engages your personal network on  a deeper level, and matters more. 

It’s about putting you right in the middle of a  network that connects you to people and information that matters for your growth and personal success.

Useful Tips to create a good network

1. Identify an in-person networking community and an online networking community. In-person communities help to create deeper relationships and enable better understanding of people. Online communities enable one to reach out across the  world and leverage the power of the network. 

2. Commit time regularly to meet people within the network 

3. Understand people genuinely, as human beings and not as fellow networkers 

4. If there is an opportunity to present at the forum, leverage that. It helps people  around us see us from a deeper perspective. 

5. Nurture the relationships built in the network. Share thoughts, participate in discussions. 

6. Volunteer to take initiatives in the events around the network 

7. Be genuine, authentic, and honest! 

It’s vital to take the long view of connection networking. Don’t expect conversations to benefit you right away. 

Instead, continue to be generous, authentic, and open with the people you meet. 

If you are dedicated to connecting with and supporting others, the network you build will eventually help you get where you want to go. This is the true power of connections

Debunked: Myths/ beliefs on networking

1. Networking will get you a project or contract or job. Not really… Networking can get you an interview; but only when you ace your interviews, you get the job. 

Likewise, networking can help you with a foot in the door for a project but unless you prove yourself, the project is not yours. So yes, networking is critical for the initial phase, but it’s not a substitute for skills or experience. 

2. It all comes down to how many people you know. This is untrue. It’s not  quantity but the quality of connections. 

One good contact who knows you to some extent is far more valuable to you than ten people who just know your name. The power of one great internal recommendation is difficult to match with numerous superficial connections. This is why it’s important to deepen existing connections. 

This does not mean one should not have a large network, but it should not come at  the cost of neglecting the existing one. 

Once, I wanted to reach out to a senior  executive in a large organization. While checking my contact list, I could find only two entry-level people. One of them had requested a mentoring call that I had obliged,  and the relationship had since developed. 

When I reached out to him, he made me  connect with the CFO of the organization whose team he was part of. This is how networking works. Not much effort to reach CFO through just one deep connection.

3. There is no strategy for networking; you either are good at it or you  are not

Not really. If you aren’t a natural networker, you should arm yourself with  tools, like some online courses or learning some tips from people skilled at it or  simply observing them. 

Some people are indeed naturals when it comes to working  the room at networking events or making a cold email sound warm, but none of this is magic. Anyone can do it. 

The only question is whether and how much you have to work at it. I have seen my transformation from running away in a networking event to now happily connecting with many. It proves you don’t have to be born with this skill!

4. Introverts make poor networkers

I believe that this is the biggest myth. It’s very easy  to blame our personality but very difficult to work on our areas of improvement and we always choose the easy path! 

Many people panic when they think of networking  because they envision a massive conference room full of smart and knowledgeable people who are all extroverts.

The ‘secret’ is that great networkers know is that opening the  door to a conversation through questions, accounts for more than half of a killer networking interaction. 

It’s not about being interesting but being interested

If you’re nervous in large crowds, get business cards for the people you want to speak with and contact them a day or two later for a private conversation. In the beginning, I  used to rely on connecting with only a few people who used to look lost too and it  worked well for me. And some of these relationships are still going strong. 

5. Networking is selfish – You connect with people, so you can get ahead. 

It’s all about your approach. Whether you come across as selfish or not in your networking initiatives. 

We should change our belief from ‘we should be independent’ to “we are all interdependent”. When you start asking for help even before learning  about the other person, you skip an important step of trust-building. 

Be genuinely interested. Ask them about their experience and listen to their advice before making  the request. 

create a strong network

Asking for a favour even without understanding the person well is an excellent recipe for disaster.

Networking is about giving. Keep giving to your network and don’t expect anything in return. Once you keep following this principle, you will realise that you may not be getting back from the same people, but the Universe will give back to you. 

What people fail to understand is that helping others is a big part of networking for a lifetime. 

Sharing your knowledge of open positions, connecting your friends with  others in their field of interest, and referring new businesses or clients to business  connections. 

These are all great ways to help others and cultivate a lasting relationship that will give you an advantage when the time comes to make the ask. 

6. Everyone in the room should get your business card

Giving out your  business card to anyone and everyone in the room ensures that the bins are full. Focus on making an impression before rushing into the exchange of contact details.  

Give the other person something to remember you by, such as your love of Korean dramas or the birthplace that you share with them or a hobby or even a movie.  

Without that step, your card will be lost in their drawer, and any attempt to meet them will not result in any response.

7. The only people you should network with are those who can offer you  a job or project or reference for your business

If you believe this, you’re doomed as a networker! 

Networking connections can do so much more than just provide you with a job or business reference. 

When you connect with people with such an expectation, people tend to avoid you since you have not developed that connection and yet expect the other person to support you. 

If you show such behaviours, you’ll be labeled as selfish and all you will get from people is silence or excuses. 

It’s very rare that during a networking meeting, you end up getting lots of business references. At times, it does happen that I get a reference or two but, most of the time, it takes a long time before a connection leads me to desired results. Patience is  the key. 

Read More: Leadership is Not a Title: 3 Steps to Lead the Way to Meaningful Change

Best Practices to Keep in Mind When Networking 

1. Be patient 

Networking with the expectation of immediate results will lead to disappointment. Networking is a treasure, but it takes time to nurture. Following are some of the results that you can expect from networking: 

1. Create long-term, trustworthy relationships 

2. Discover new business referrals 

3. Get a network of contacts for vendors and service providers  

4. Gain confidence by speaking with others 

5. An opportunity to practice public speaking 

6. You will notice that you have become the “go-to” person for contact references 7. Get business opportunities through word of mouth 

8. Get Job referrals 

And the list of benefits is endless.

However, keep in mind that networking is a long-term investment and it takes time to leverage your connections and derive benefits. Don’t lose patience if you are not met with initial success. Keep investing in creating genuine relationships and you will soon start witnessing results in your favour. 

2. Be prepared before you go to networking meet-ups

Always remember that appearance is the filter through which the world looks at us. Always dress for the occasion. You want their attention but not the negative one. 

You must always be  prepared to market yourself on the spot, regardless of location or audience profile. Know your strengths and be prepared to share how you add value. Be ready with a  30 second pitch. E.g., Reactions of people change when I go in jeans vs when I’m wearing a blazer/ suit…

3. Ask for help 

I have learnt this one the hard way. But now I understand asking for help is not a  weakness but a strength. Now my mantra is to help others and seek help too.  

Getting advice from someone who has gone through a similar experience is helpful.  

And trust me people love being asked for assistance because it indicates that their  opinion is valued. But you need to be cautious. 

Proactively tell them that you are not  asking for a job or assignment, but rather requesting for advice. One of my mentors always says, ask and you will get it. And he’s right.

4. Be ready before it is required

One thing to keep in mind is that if you reach out to people only when  you need help, no one is likely to help you. 

Remember desperate networking does not work. 

For you to reap the fruits, seeds must be sown well in advance. People with  the most friends, mentors and well-wishers understand well that you must reach out  to others long before you have a requirement. 

If you suddenly run out of work, your  network will always be there to support you. This is true for most situations. Even if  you take up a new role, you must invest your early days in networking. Creating a  network early on will save you time later when you are trying to succeed by solving  problems and leveraging resources. 

How to network 

Participate in professional organizations – There are multiple networking  organizations like Rotary Club, Lions Club, and various LinkedIn groups. 

Likewise, there are associations with specific purposes e.gFor HR professionals there are  association HR Shapers, HR Milestone and so on. The point is to identify your area of interest and look for relevant associations or groups. 

For women leaders, Lifting Leaders, Women with wings, WICCI, Leanin etc are excellent associations to join. Where as if you’re a budding entrepreneur, BNI is a great place to connect. 

Likewise, for professional speakers, PSAI, Toastmasters and Speakers Tribe are excellent places. 

Volunteer – Volunteering is another effective way to learn new skills and expand your reach. 

Besides, the satisfaction that you get from supporting communities is unmatchable. In this case, networking is just a by-product but an impactful one.  

Don’t forget about personal branding. In today’s social media world, your reputation reaches the room before you do and hence it is important to focus on personal  branding. 

Before anyone enters into any sort of transaction with you, they will likely  Google you and that Google search result will determine the next course of action. 

It’s imperative that you google yourself and find out what is showing up and then work on creating what you want to see there. 

Network maintenance is the key. While developing connections is the first step, what is more important and arduous is keeping in touch. 

A few things that have worked  for me are congratulating my network on their achievements, being in touch with  them by reacting to their social media postings, forwarding an article or media report  that they might be interested in, and wishing them on festivals, anniversaries, etc.

Cultivate your expertise in small talks. Learning small talk can be a savior in your networking journey. I learnt about FORM from one of my friends who is a  professional sales coach and it has always helped me establish quick connections  with any newcomer. 

F stands for Family. When you connect with a new person, asking where they are from, and where their family comes from can be an easy starting point. I meet people  from the same state, and this becomes a connecting point in numerous conversations. 

O stands for Occupation. Talk about their professional journey, How they started,  what they are doing currently, and what lies ahead. If you’re from similar industries,  there will be multiple threads that you can stitch together and make it an interesting  conversation. 

R stands for Recreation. Ask them what do they do beyond work. What are their hobbies? Try to find a connection here e.g., a similar hobby or an author or genre. It can also be anything from a Netflix series to gardening. A word of caution though, don’t fake your interest just to make a connection. 

M stands for Motivation. What keeps them going? What is their purpose? How do  they achieve intellectual and spiritual well-being? What has been their story?  

All you need to do is listen and be genuine. 

Happy connecting and wishing you the very best in leveraging the power of connections!

Read More: The Importance of Choosing Our Tribe

This post was contributed by Vishal Singhhal. He is the Co-founder of CellStrat Hub, an AI (Artificial Intelligence) Evangelist, and a networking enthusiast. Be sure to check out Vishal’s recently published book “Leveraging AI for Business Success”.