Just this week, I facilitated a seminar on self marketing and networking for folks in career transition. As usual, people’s eyes started to glaze over and their questions focused on the short-term need to network for job leads. Nonetheless, I moved the conversation in direction of networking as central to long-term career management and business strategy.
Happily, people many people are beginning to get that networking needs to be an ongoing activity. I suspect you do too.
Still, you'll want to figure out networking strategies that work best for you. This week, as I continued my virtual interview with Liz Lynch, author of the newly released Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online, one of the first questions I asked was about her own efforts to make networking work for her. From there I went on to ask about relationship building, dealing with pushy people, building rich relationships on line, and strategies for making networking easier by attracting a following. Here’s the interview:
Liz, you've described yourself as "not a born networker" and yet you've become a leading authority on networking. What motivated you to become such an avid networker, and what keeps you motivated?
I learned to network out of necessity when I left Corporate America in 2000 to start my own consulting business. With my business background in strategy and a natural tendency to want to streamline every process I work with, I developed the "Smart Networking" approach mainly for myself, the time-starved solopreneur who didn't want to be out there all the time and, therefore, had to be highly effective when she was. Shortly after, people started asking me about my strategies, and soon I was writing articles, speaking and blogging about networking in a way that seemed to connect with people all over the world. I love thinking up different ways to explain concepts and seeing each person reach an "aha" moment where he/she gets inspired to take action.
Many people get caught up in the mechanics of how to begin and end interactions with new people, and also aren't sure how to set up the next conversation to move the relationship forward. What are some ideas for managing relationship building?
It's not necessary to have every step in the relationship planned out in advance. You can lose some of the spontaneity and the organic quality of relationship building. Plus since we're talking about individuals, everyone will have different reactions and different needs. The general principle for smart networking is to make sure that every interaction you have with someone is a positive one. Be likeable, be interested in them, and make them feel at ease so that whatever happens next, they're willing to go along for the ride, or at least, willing to hear you out.
We all have the experience of people who seem to push themselves on others during and after networking events. What's the best way to handle interactions with these people?
Aggressive networkers can be difficult to handle. During the event it's probably best just to let them do their thing, they'll be on to someone else soon enough, and it's always better to be polite to others. But after the event, if they want to arrange a follow up meeting and you don't really see a fit (mainly because you don't sync with their approach), it's fine to politely decline.
Increasingly, people are finding opportunities to build relationships online. Many people seem to end up with lots of Facebook friends (or LinkedIn connections), but shallow relationships; others end up with rich and lasting relationships that start online. What makes the difference?
It comes down to the quality of the interactions you have with the people in your online network. The more individualized, personalized and frequent your online conversations are, the deeper relationship you will have with someone. You're a perfect example of this, Walter, and I included you in Smart Networking because of it. You and I have never met, but you certainly got my attention and won me over as a friend for life with the insightful comments you would leave on each of the videos in the Passport to Networking series that I posted, and with the supportive messages and tweets that you would write whenever I had exciting news to share. This thoughtfulness and caring is impossible to convey at a mass level, you have to do it individual by individual.
You've indicated that networking is easier when you can build a following. What are you top three strategies for doing that?
1) Blogging; 2) speaking; and 3) starting your own group. The common theme is that each of these adds value to others on a one-to-many basis, which is what Part III of Smart Networking is all about. The first two are all about sharing content that can help people answer a question, solve a problem, or improve a skill. The third is about bringing people together to meet and connect with one another, and as the instigator, your relationships expand and strengthen in turn.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this segment, and I hope you’ll come back for more great advice when I conclude my virtual interview with Liz. And remember, if you’re looking for even more helpful advice from Liz, her book is great!