By Pat Roberts
We all know those awful events where the ‘expert networkers’ collect a stack of cards and send e-mails to each of their new contacts. That doesn’t work for me and I believe I’m not alone in rejecting this approach.
While I have an active web site, LinkedIn profile and other social media mechanisms, these tend to attract a lot of connections but they don’t necessarily translate into business. Not yet, at any rate. This leads me to believe that personal contacts and relationships carry far more potential.
I’ve found, after many painful years of trial and error that the most effective way to build a network of people with whom I have a relationship – people who will remember who I am and what I do – is to find ways of adding value to the lives of people I meet.
This could happen in a wide range of ways but you’ll only find out what could be useful to the person you are meeting if you truly listen to what they’re saying to you. This requires you to spend some meaningful time with them in which you are fully present to what they are saying in a way that ensures that you remember them and what’s important to that person.
- Once you’ve shared some interesting information about each other you may be able to refer them to an acquaintance related to the business offering of your new contact. You could introduce them to a network you are part of and which you believe would also be useful or interesting to them. You could send an e-mail with a book recommendation or an article attached that you believe they’ll find interesting based on your conversation. You could offer to be involved in a project on which they are working. This may not happen at once but if you truly listen to them and remember what they told you, you’ll know when the right opportunity presents itself.
- Another important way of growing your influence is through the relevant professional body of your profession or industry. This probably won’t be a marketing opportunity as everyone in the organisation may be a competitor but it has a number of advantages. It will keep you in touch with the major players in your industry so that you know who your competitors are and what they’re doing. It should keep you abreast of the new developments in your profession or industry so that you know you’re always at the cutting edge of development. It could expose you to potential collaboration on big projects and give you a group of contacts from whom you could ask advice if you’re struggling with something. Belonging to the professional body is a signal that you are serious about what you do and prepared to be measured by your peers. It also could expose you to opportunities within the profession that you’d otherwise not be aware of.
- Volunteering is yet another option. Are there organisations that develop young people to take their place in your profession. How about offering to be a mentor? This will build your reputation and expose you to even more people who share your skills and passion in addition to enabling you to leave a legacy of your knowledge and skills.
- Sharing your thinking is another way to grow your influence. Can you write about your area of expertise for relevant publications? Could you offer your services as a speaker and appropriate events?
Next time you attend one of those events where you feel you’re supposed to meet people, aim to meet just two people but make sure that your connection with them is authentic and memorable and that you know enough about your new acquaintance to be able to add value to them in a relevant way. You’ll be amazed how this builds your network over time.
Pat Roberts (PCC) holds the Communications portfolio on the 2017 ICF SA Board. She coaches senior executives who acknowledge they can achieve even more than they currently are, and who are open to exploring ways to unlock their potential, both for themselves and the value they add to the business. See her directory page for more information.
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