One of the things I’ve missed most during the pandemic is getting together and networking. Networking is part of my DNA. No cocktail parties, fundraisers, association meetings and so on for the last couple years has been troubling for me and I’m sure many of you as well.
The number one line from my networking book, “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty,” is: “If I had to name the single characteristic shared by all the truly successful people I’ve met over a lifetime, I’d say it is the ability to create and nurture a network of contacts.”
Networking is that important for business. In my entire career I have never once heard a successful person say he or she regretted putting time and energy into their network.
Author Porter Gale said, “Your network is your net worth.”
Networking is not a numbers game. The idea is not to see how many people you can meet; the idea is to compile a network of people you can count on.
For most people networking is a learned behavior, like learning to swim. It is a gradual process of trial and error, small incremental steps and finally a few breakthroughs.
If you want to practice, start with your family and extended family and then their extended families. Your network is potentially the size of your contacts, plus all your relatives’ contacts, your friends’ contacts, your business associates’ contacts and so on. I like to say when two people exchange dollar bills, each has only one dollar. However, when two people exchange networks, they each have two networks.
Four of the best groups I know for networking are alumni clubs, industry associations, social clubs and hobby groups. Some universities have better alumni networks than others, but every school – even high schools – have an alumni club. Relationships are not assigned based on profession, gender or race.
Trade groups are happy hunting grounds for networking in all kinds of ways. In fact, I recently was at the spring meeting of the Envelope Manufacturers Association in my role as chairman of MackayMitchell Envelope Company.
Golf clubs, social clubs and athletic clubs are extremely important parts of a person’s network. More deals probably are closed in these places than in all the offices in the country combined. (Well, maybe not quite as many, but how else to justify the time and expense to our spouses and bosses?)
And hobbies have always been a terrific way to make contacts across a broad and diverse spectrum because buffs often are scattered all over the map and can be found in all income, age and social groups.
And if you haven’t mastered the incredible reach of the Internet, using sites like LinkedIn, you are missing out on an enormous opportunity. Of course, there’s a Facebook group for every interest, including all aspects of business. I’ve established international contacts that used to be accessible only through well-timed phone calls or overseas travel.
As the pandemic continues to recede, there are more opportunities for in-person networking. If you’re out of practice, or new to the whole networking thing, remember these basic tips for making a positive impression:
• Be your authentic self. Don’t try to put on an act when you first meet someone. Smile, be friendly, and most of all, be yourself. Other people will respond to an open attitude.
• Develop your story. Produce a short narrative for yourself, describing who you are and what you want to accomplish in life. Keep it short and simple—you don’t want to overwhelm a new acquaintance with your life story, just give them a glimpse into your personality.
• Target the right people. Don’t try to establish a relationship with everyone you meet. Identify people in your industry who can help you with knowledge and insight—and who you can help as well.
• Do some homework. Before going to a networking event like a happy hour or industry conference, find out who is going to be there so you can plan your approach. Do you know anyone already? Can a friend help you connect with someone new? Be prepared.
• Stay open. Although you may have an idea of what kind of people you want to connect with, don’t write anyone off too quickly. Sometimes a person from a different industry has experiences or insights that can be valuable to you. Get to know people to assess whether they merit staying in contact with.
Mackay’s Moral: The more you exercise your networking muscles, the stronger they get – and the easier networking becomes.