Regular readers know that I think that our economy is entering a period of transition that might be rough for a lot of people. We are likely to continue to see erosion of the employer/employee job model. The disparity between the very rich and the middle class is also likely to continue to increase.
One of the things that we must do to ensure that we flourish as the economy changes is to relearn the lost art of networking. This post contains some simple techniques that will provide you with an advantage over your peers.
My parents are masters at the art of networking. They own a retail business that enables them to meet tons of people. They know lots of lawyers, doctors, restaurant owners, police officers, and local politicians.
Because of their connections, my parents have always been able to get legal or medical information even on the weekends. They have no problem getting a reservation at the top restaurants in town, and their friends in the police force keep an extra eye on the store.
But what if you don’t have a retail establishment? How do you build a powerful social network?
Leverage internet social media
You probably already have networks in place through the use of internet tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. If used properly, these tools can be a great adjunct to in-person networking.
If used improperly, though, they provide a person with a false sense of security. He can think that he has a large network, but when he actually tries to use it, he will find that it is worthless.
The best thing you can do to leverage these tools is to stay active even if you are not looking for a job.
With Facebook, this is easy to do. The best Facebook users make sure that they are posting something at least on a monthly, if not weekly basis. It could be some pictures of their latest experience with barbecuing or with trying a new bourbon. Or it could be sharing a picture of the family dressed in their Sunday best for the Easter service at church.
These types of posts keep you at the forefront of your friends’ minds.
Also be sure to “like” and comment on the posts of your friends. It seems like a stupid thing, but many users put a lot of stock into who “liked” their posts.
But avoid getting dragged into any sort of political or religious discussions. These are pointless because they convince no one and they are almost certain to offend someone in your network.
Staying active on LinkedIn is a bit harder because you can’t arbitrarily post a cute picture of your kid.
The best thing you can do on LinkedIn is to write short articles about your industry. For example, if you are a lawyer, you can write about the benefits of the new legal app you’ve just tried.
These articles don’t need to contain mind-blowing secrets, and they don’t need to appeal to everyone in your network. They just need to be accurate.
Writing industry articles establishes you as an expert in your field and it demonstrates that you are a person who goes the extra the mile in doing your work.
As good as internet social media is, it is a limited networking tool. If you want to separate yourself from the pack, you are going to have to do networking in the old-fashioned way—face to face contact.
How to start building a network
Everyone you meet is potentially a contact in your network. The more people you know, the better. Don’t limit yourself to people who are just in your industry. You never know how someone might be helpful in the future.
Here are some places to look for new networking contacts:
- Work: Everyone in your workplace is a potential contact, but don’t think that just adding them to your LinkedIn network is sufficient. Go out of your way to get to know them on a personal level.
- Trade and Professional Associations: Lots of professions have continuing education requirements that you have to fulfill. Or they have regular meetings or conferences. Attend these in person as often as possible.
- Church and Community Groups: For whatever reason, a lot of younger men steer clear of community groups. This is a mistake as these groups can be goldmines in terms of networking even when the other members are not in your industry. Look for groups such as the Knights of Columbus, the Rotary Club, or the Masons.
- Serve as a Mentor: At work, try to take less experienced or new employees under your wing. You never know when your mentee will later become a customer or even your boss.
Collecting business cards is not networking. Rather, you need to learn about each person you meet. What they do for a living is only a start. Some things to listen for are:
- Where are they from originally?
- What are their hobbies and passions?
- What is the name of their wife and kids? How old are their children?
- Where did they go to school?
- How can you stay in touch with them?
The key to networking is not regard people as means to an end. Rather, get to know them as individuals. Take a personal interest them as human beings, not potential customers or employers.
All great networkers keep records. After you meet someone, write down everything that you’ve learned about him. Personally, I just use a spreadsheet to collect this information, but there may be apps that are tailored for this task.
Before you meet the person again, refresh your memory and think about things that you can talk about with that person. Your contact will be impressed that you care enough to remember him.
Help the members of your network
Keith Ferrazi wrote a popular book on networking called Never Eat Alone. The gist of the book is that in order to be successful in business, you must help other people.
The elite of the business world understand this concept intuitively. They understand that the person that they help might be able to help them down the road. Ferrazi recounts numerous examples of how willingness to help has enabled him to get to become friends with some of the world’s most interesting and powerful people.
This is common sense, but once you go a little bit lower in the management chain, many people don’t seem to understand this concept. People are so focused on their own career that they don’t see the benefit of passing along a resume with a good recommendation, or providing an introduction to a helpful contact.
Perhaps they think that life is some sort of zero-sum game: if I help someone else to have more, somehow I will have less. But this mindset is inimical to success.
Helping others serves as an insurance policy for the future. As the Bible says:
Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.
– Ecclesiastes 11:1-2
Stay in touch with your network
If you build a great network but fail to maintain it by staying in regular contact with each person in your network, your network will be useless when you need it most.
Networking guru Harvey Mackay gives several good ideas for staying in contact with your network in his book Dig Your Well Before Your Are Thirsty: The Only Networking Book You Will Ever Need:
- Send Christmas cards, but personalize them to the individual that you are sending them to. Don’t let your assistant do this work for you. Think of other occasions that you can send notes to different people, such as birthdays and anniversaries.
- Congratulate people on promotions or job changes. LinkedIn may be a good tool to do this.
- Get in touch with people who are down. If one of the members of your network loses his job, reach out to him to see if you can help him make a new connection. If someone is sick, send flowers or a get-well card—or better yet, visit them in person.
- Attend events. Mackay writes: “Sure, you can skip the wedding and send a spoon, but don’t. Weddings, confirmations, graduations, school plays, bar mitzvahs, recitals, the big award: People always remember who was there and who wasn’t.”
This kind of personal contact is completely missing from today’s world. By relearning the lost art of networking you distinguish yourself as a person of character and ensure that when you need it, you will have a network to fall back on.