Whether you are a seasoned executive or business owner, a budding entrepreneur or a growing professional, one of the keys to your success will be the extent to which you can effectively connect with opportunities in the market – either to capture clients, gain collaborators of any kind, or find jobs and other projects to fulfill your objectives.
While there may be many strategies for how to do this, what I have learned through the years in my work is that there are three key elements you need to master in order to make the kinds of relationships that lead to quality opportunities.
The idea here is “authentic networking”, which means that the below can be adapted to any type of personality and any type of objective or initiative. The key is to find ways to make it work in combination with your unique offering.
1) Know how to recognize opportunities.
There is so much “noise” in the market. We are constantly overwhelmed with information, resources, requests, and initiatives that continuously compete for our attention. We live in a time of “too many” and much of what is available is subjective at best, or irrelevant and toxic at worst.
Given that you are one person or team, your efforts will be limited to the time you dedicate to such information. Therefore, it has never been more important to find ways to effectively identify and manage such information.
How can you do this?
- Get very clear on what you can offer. Your competitive advantages, your unique talents, your knowledge of your market and profession, your understanding and experience of your unique client and environment.
- Get very clear on what you want. What are you looking for? What is your strategy short and long term? How do you plan to achieve your objectives?
- Who can help you? Who are those clients, contacts, collaborators, STARS (movers and shakers) that can help you get where you want to go?
- Where is there buzz? In what groups, communities, events, movements, etc. do you see the kind of initiative and values that resonate with what you are trying to accomplish?
2) Know how to present yourself effectively and PERSUADE.
As one of my own coaches, Sandy Schussel, states, “there is nothing uglier than showing a client your NEED”. The idea is not to pitch yourself aggressively, dominating the space between you and a potential contact, but rather to create your own space, a way of being that invites others naturally to participate and engage with you.
How do you do this?
- Develop your own Story, internalize and practice it. Once you are clear on what you can offer, synthesize that into a fluid and natural dialogue that you can communicate easily at any point, without having to force it. Master the art of storytelling, of powerful anecdotes that show, not tell of your value, and maintain your presence free of aggressive tactics and insecure intentions.
- Optimize your skills of active listening and the power of thoughtful questions. So much of what you need to know to gain a contact, client or job comes from listening and studying what they truly need. They have the answers! Learn to truly stop and hear on all levels (what they say, what they don’t, what they feel, etc.) and prepare important “open” questions that will provide you key information for how best to move forward. These usually begin with “How” or “What” such as “what solution would take care of the problem?”, “how will you feel once you have the right talent in your firm?”, etc.
- Master the skills of nonverbal communication. This takes a bit of knowledge and training but it is easy to come by and much of it you already feel and know instinctually. What are cues of interest vs. disinterest? When might someone be lying or exaggerating vs. being authentic? How can you put someone at ease without overextending? For a great and fun book on the topic, see “The Definitive Book of Body Language” by Allan and Barbara Pease.
- Set the right tone and transmit appropriate confidence. Of course the main thing in a networking situation is to be yourself, but it can be helpful to know some basic social cues and how they tend to be interpreted. We all generally like to engage with people who are passionate, positive, energetic and kind. This is a basic human response. But we also tend to get put off by people who are overly boisterous, or aggressive, or passive, negative or judgmental. Such reactions can overwhelm, intimidate, and transmit a sense of insecurity or in some cases, aggression. How do you get it right? Relax into the moment, get clear on the steps above, and learn a bit more about emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence” is a great start.
3) Have a solid, continuous strategy for relationship management.
As our energy, focus and effort is limited, it is so important to evaluate correctly how much you should invest of yourself in a given person or opportunity. It’s not a perfect science but getting this right can ensure that you make the most of the opportunity of meeting this person and create a follow-up that can lead to greater things. Remember that this is based on mutual interest to eventually lead to the exchange of mutual benefits.
Even if you are inexperienced or just starting a new venture, there is always something you can offer to another, and something that another can offer to you. The question is whether the scope of your search is large and targeted enough and whether you have the right process to find that out.
How do you do this?
- Initial contacts – these are new contacts who seem interesting but perhaps there is no immediate opportunity between you, though there might be in the future. Get their card when you meet them and connect to them on LinkedIn afterwards. This is a sure-fire way to have them in your contact database on LinkedIn, track their progress, support their posts, and maintain a connection for potential future opportunities.
- Medium potentials – these are new contacts that in the short time you’ve met, you established a more active and immediate interest to continue the conversation, but without yet a definite or guaranteed opportunity. Get their card and connect with them on LinkedIn. Also via LinkedIn or email/phone establish a date to continue the conversation for coffee, lunch/dinner or an office visit (to yours or theirs), you can treat them for added courtesy. Make sure to be relaxed in your approach, not insisting too hard (as some people show interest but don’t necessarily mean it), but try to close a second moment to meet.
- High potentials – these are new contacts with whom you’ve had clear and specific conversation around specific opportunities for a job, sale or collaboration. As with all new contacts, get their card and connect on LinkedIn but also prepare a more targeted approach to continue the conversation. You will do the same of what is needed for medium potentials, which is to say get another face-to-face meeting. But it may also require you to email them in advance your dossier or other appropriate marketing content, and if they are valuable enough, a targeted document/email for how specifically you can add value and work together in the near future.
As a final rule of thumb, with any type of contact with whom you want to really develop a relationship, contacting them once a quarter (once every 3-4 months) is a solid strategy. It may often mean just an email to ask how they are, and perhaps send them an article, video, book suggestion, etc. regarding something specific they have expressed interest in, whether or not it directly pertains to opportunities with you. This way you keep serving and adding value without pressure.
We do a lot a of work in this area so don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.
What have been your experiences with networking? What have you found that works and doesn’t? Any really awesome experiences you have had? Share with us here.