I know who mine are. One is the woman who started sharing my articles on Twitter. I noticed we live in the same city. I looked up her website and on the spur of the moment I rang her to say thank you and hello. We chatted and emailed a couple of times during the next few weeks.
She referred me to one of her contacts in an organisation that’s now my biggest corporate client.
She referred me to a national company’s head of organisational development and leader of its women’s network who now has a proposal of mine sitting on her desk just waiting for the big yes to fly me interstate to present to the female employees.
She’s also been a big supporter of securing me as a speaker at a lunch for women who work in the construction industry and could do with more confidence and skills when it comes to speaking powerfully at work.
I haven’t been able to return my ally’s generosity. Not yet. But I’ve asked her how I could. I’ve asked her how I can support her business. And I’ve said thank you, via phone calls, emails and a handwritten card. And you can bet your bottom dollar that next time I hear of someone who needs my ally’s services, I’ll be tooting her horn and sending them down a one-way street to her front door.
That’s how networking works. It’s how I’ve built in a few short months – and continue to grow – my business. And it’s non-negotiable. Have a business? Work in a business? Networking needs to be at the top of your to do list.
And here comes my rant, because it’s a topic that fires me up and it’s an important part of my upcoming Powerful Speaking at Work program.
In the past few months, I’ve heard comments like this too many times: The women in our organisation suck at networking. Those are the actual words one woman said to me about the other women in her company.
It baffles me because networking is all about relationship building. And women – in general – do that naturally and very well.
As a connector first and foremost on Marcus Buckingham’s list of nine strengths roles, I’m someone who loves networking. I get excited when I meet new people, and it makes me feel pumped when I can connect them with one another. It’s the kind of ‘clap my hands together’ and say ‘yay’ kind of happy.
In the past few weeks, one of my contacts asked for help to fill a position in his business and I referred one of my other contacts who got the job. I was asked by two contacts if I knew a great PR person and referred two of my other contacts. I put my favourite cameraman‘s name forward for a shoot and he got the gig. I’ve been asked if I have work for people and if I know someone else who might have work for them. Last week I was asked by a woman I know if she could take my place as a presenter if I’m offered a speaking role and I’m not available.
These sorts of things happen every week. I love it that people ask for my help, and I love it more that I can give it. People have started describing me as a Networking Queen. That’s a crown I proudly wear.
I get it doesn’t work that way for everyone. So, to make it easier, and to help you become a fabulous networker, here are my top 1o tips.
1. Know your network
Consider how you’re already connected to people – work, family, friends, professional associations, clubs, volunteer activities, school, your hairdresser, dentist, the local cafe where you grab your coffee every morning. You know a lot of people, right? Think about how you can help the people in your network to achieve their goals.
2. Expand your network
Look for opportunities to go to different places and meet new people. Be open-minded.
In the past few months I’ve said yes to a breakfast that’s run each month by an accounting firm (and I met two women who have a network marketing business who introduced me to their team leader and then I ran a tailored presentation skills workshop for them and it was wonderful!). I said yes to a women’s lunch that’s going to turn into a monthly get-together and had a chance to speak with four or five people I hadn’t met before. I said yes to coffee (event though I don’t drink it – peppermint tea’s my poison) invitations – and instigated my own – with new contacts on LinkedIn.
One of the women I met via LinkedIn is doing my Powerful Speaking Intensive this week. I’ve also found myself in situations and meetings that didn’t seem fruitful at the time. But they might be one day. And if nothing else, my world expanded. I’ve met some lovely people. And I like that.
3. Master the art of small talk
If small talk is uncomfortable for you, make sure you’re armed with a few topics you can talk about, or questions you can ask in networking situations (by the way, I define any situation in which you meet someone new as networking because you’re establishing a relationship that you might choose to build).
Remember that listening to other people speak is such a gift, and asking them thoughtful questions will make them feel important and special. You can tailor topics and questions to the interests of the people who are there. Also, it’s totally fine to politely excuse yourself from a conversation and move on if it’s going on for too long or you’re not finding it very interesting. Be respectful and gracious.
4. Say yes to invitations
You’d be amazed by the opportunities out there to meet people, from formal networking organisations to breakfasts, drinks, lunches, presentations, meetings, and other events. I ensure I network at least once a week, including coffee catch-ups, lunches and events. Some weeks I’ll go to a couple of different events.
The more I show up, the more I’m invited too. I’m regularly invited to speak at events and women’s mentoring and networking groups. It exposes me to an entirely new audience, and instantly grows my network. Remember, whether you like it or not, the more you are seen out and about, the more people remember you, see you as successful and refer you. Embrace six degrees of separation!
5. Follow up
This is imperative. Whenever I meet someone with whom I want to grow a connection, I always follow up – usually with a personal email that includes words describing what I enjoyed about the person and our meeting. It’s a small gift from me, and I know it means a lot to the receiver.
And while I’m on the topic of following up, it’s important to do it on social networking sites too. When someone invites me to connect on LinkedIn, for example, I always send a message to say hello and thank them for the connection. It makes a world of difference because so few people do it. As one new connection said to me: Thanks for replying. I am motivated and you haven’t even tried
6. Manage your network
Stay connected by sending emails even if it’s just to say hello, and handwritten cards for important days like birthdays or significant events. I recently sent one of my contacts a card just before she went on maternity leave. I knew that would surprise and delight her, and it made me feel great to be able to do that. I wanted her to know I was thinking of her.
You can invite someone different for coffee or lunch every week or two to stay in touch, or set aside a few hours each month to email or call people you haven’t heard from in a while.
You’re busy. We all are. Time is precious. And when you take the time to go out of your way, it won’t go unnoticed. A phone call, an email, or forwarding something of interest – perhaps an article – shows you’re thinking of someone who matters to you.
Ask people how you can support them in their business, especially if they’ve shown interest in you and/or helped you. Build equity in your networking bank by helping others.
8. Connect people
Make an effort to bring together people who you know will benefit from meeting one another. When someone does this for me I really appreciate it, and it makes me want to return the favour.
Remember to always ask permission to give out a phone number or email address. Don’t take it for granted that it’s okay. Honour the people in your network. Make sure you’re generous with sharing your connections too (with permission).
9. Ask for what you want
If you’re someone who goes out of your way to help others, then you have equity in your networking account. Cash it in. Ask for help. Ask for an introduction. And show your appreciation when you get it. Make sure you say thank you.
10. Make the most of social networking
Whether it’s Facebook or LinkedIn (my preference), you can use social networking sites to expand your network. They’re great tools for asking your contacts for introductions to their contacts, as well as sourcing referrals and sharing information. Remember though, online social networking can never replace a personal conversation.
Want to hear a few of my networking no-nos too?
It’ll make me feel better to get them off my chest.
1. Just because you have someone’s business card doesn’t mean you have a relationship.
2. Just because you were at the same networking lunch as someone else and have access to their email address doesn’t mean it’s okay to add them to your subscriber list on your website. This is never acceptable. You need permission from people to do that.
3. Just because you were at the same networking lunch doesn’t mean you can email and say it was great to meet you if you never actually did meet.
4. Make sure you spell people’s names correctly. My name, by the way, is Tricia, not TriVia (yes, I received an email from a guy I’d never met, but who claimed we had, and he called me Trivia. I told him I’d like to think I’m more important than that).
Now, go forth and be a magnificent networker.
Do you have some networking tips? Feel free to share them in the comments below.
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