I recently celebrated my first Father’s Day. It didn’t live up to my expectations. My wife was not feeling well and our two girls were in rare form. Thankfully they both went down for naps right after lunch and my wife was able to get some rest; I was even able to get in nine holes. Most days, however are not like that. Our girls (long-term foster children) are for the most part low maintenance and well-behaved. They desire to please us and delight in the good attention they receive when they obey and do things right. I just wish I could say that was the core of their nature.
It is a lesson that parents learn very early and very quickly: human nature, at its core, is selfish and self-serving. No parent has ever taught a child to grab a toy out of someone else’s hands; no one has taught a child to eat dessert first; and I guarantee no one has taught a child the art of a grocery store temper tantrum, yet somehow these desires and actions come with every child regardless of location, upbringing, race or creed. Granted, all children will exhibit various degrees of these types of behaviors, but they are still present.
This is why parents must teach proper behavior; because it does not come naturally. Likewise, as adults it is still at the core of our nature to put ourselves first and elevate our needs and desires above others. One place this is more prevalent: the world of business networking.
Right Networking vs. Wrong Networking
While at a city-wide trade show in Omaha (there was over 10,000 people in attendance at this one day event), I met one individual who happened to represent a company in the financial services industry. While this person is by no means the quintessential representative for networking from their industry, they make a good illustration. This person interrupted a conversation I was having with three other networkers whom had become friends of mine. We had taken the time to find things we held in common, built a deeper relationship with each other and began to specifically look for ways to help each other in business. In an effort to physically break our circle of conversation, this financial advisor literally stepped into our circle, pulled business cards out of his pocket and started placing his cards directly in our shirt pockets while telling us that “You need to talk to me”. He then butted out as quickly as he butted in and we never saw him again (that day).
This particular group of friends I was with had already started determining and declaring what we believed to be a right and a wrong way to network in business. The example we just experienced proved our theory and cemented in our minds the image of what someone looks like when they network while still being controlled by their selfish human nature. We decided we wanted none of that and used our personal experience to create networking guidelines that we believed would do us much better in the long run:
- Proper networking is NOT selling; it is long-term relationship building
- A networking event is NOT a place to sell wares (except for those who paid for a trade-show booth); it is an opportunity to meet people with whom you can develop a win-win partnership
- People will like me and seek me out if I am a friend first and listen to them instead of speaking at them
- If people like me, they will want to help me
- In order to profit in the long term, we must be willing to give first and serve in the short-term
- We must put aside what we want today and invest in what’s best in the long run, also known as the concept of multiplication; I could push for a referral today, or seek what’s best for the other person and earn an exponential number of referrals throughout the life of that relationship
While our circle of influence grew slowly and many people started but could not be patient through the process, we now have deep friendships with each other and many others whom are perpetually helping each other out, regardless of life or location changes.
Networking to Gain Influence
A few years after the event at the trade show, I had been relocated to Seattle and was testing out my networking guidelines in a new market. While at one of my first networking events I came across another financial planner (again, not necessarily a representative of the networkers in their industry) with whom we had at best a thirty second conversation that in no way got past the cursory explanations of our respective businesses (he had to be sure to meet everybody in the room). The next morning I received an email from him explaining to me why I needed to transfer my financial accounts to him along with what would happen if I don’t. For fun I printed out this email – it took 7 pages of paper to print the entire thing!
Had we actually been able to have a conversation and he were to listen to me, he would have found out very quickly that I was already a client with his financial firm and was already using the financial products he was trying to sell me on in this email. While I have received sales-y emails like this in the past, his stood out, because even though he has my business card, he still managed to misspell my name in the email. I decided he had earned a response.
I admit that I wrote a few drafts before finalizing on the email to send him (I was new in town and wanted to gain influence, not enemies), but when I did send it, I was able to turn it into a teaching moment that earned me a trusted ally (thankfully he took my advice to heart) and another long-term friend. What I sent him as the advice I learned a few years back from one of the wisest networking mentors I have ever had. Thanks, Bridget! She called it her 3 rules of networking and follow up and has allowed me to take them and use them in training tools myself.
The 3 Rules of Networking and Follow Up
In order to be successful with these rules, one absolute must is required: you must choose to put others first and seek long term influence and relationships. This won’t work if you’re only going for the short term sale.
- Find 3 people at an event that you can learn something interesting about. This means seeking people out and asking questions to learn something about them past the surface. Do they ski? Are the fans of Arrested Development? Look for common links and things that you both enjoy. Make this person memorable to you.
- Find 2 people at an event who will go a bit farther and be interested to learn something deeper about you. Always ask them questions first – people feel honored and respected when you ask about them and that will make them WANT to know more about you. When offered, share about yourself in a way that connects with what you’ve learned about them.
- Find 1 person that you can help in a direct, tangible way at that time. This does NOT mean selling them something. It means being a friend and doing something specifically and uniquely for them. Maybe they are looking to meet a specific person – help them, even introduce them directly if you can! Maybe they need someone to listen, or even a hug. Maybe they need a sell and you can help them out. Whatever it may be, find someone with whom you can bring a positive experience to their day.
This means, to be effective at a networking event, you only need to talk to 3 people. Whatever your personality, this is a do-able list. You will find that if you network consistently and follow these rules, it will take about 6 months, but at that point you will be the one everyone comes to and looks for. That’s when you will see your business explode. I can personally attest I have followed these rules and lived by them while living and networking in 3 cities: Omaha, NE; Seattle, WA and Fort Myers, FL. Each city proved this true and each city still has people in it that I keep up with and we still enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship.
Following Up with Networking Contacts
You will, without a doubt, meet more than 3 people at a networking event. The idea is, however, that it only takes 3 solid contacts each time…with one small caveat. They do have to be followed up with. Each person can best organize their own collection of business cards, but I do like to organize them into certain levels of follow up:
- Emails are for the people that you meet that you don’t really intend to pursue. Chances are you will see them again and there is no real reason, either for the short or long term to put significant time into that relationship. However, I always consider it polite to send them an email and say it was nice to meet them
- Phone Calls are for those that you are unsure about. Do they have the connections you are looking for? Can they be a valuable relationship? Sometimes it’s not very easy to tell from an initial conversation (sometimes it is) whether they fit into your list of partners. A phone call follow up is a great way to extend that conversation, find out more about them and determine if they would make good connections without wasting too much time on a potential dud.
- Face to face meeting, or one-to-ones are the highest level of follow up and should only be utilized on those you are confident will be good long term connections. Start light and meet them for a coffee or happy hour and continue the “getting to know you” process. If your expectations are met, continue working down that trail – find out if they know the kind of people you want to meet and vice versa. Make sure you are a good connection for them to have as well.
Utilizing LinkedIn for Networking
Social Media is, for the most part, something that I don’t include in this list because I like to keep mine more personal. That, however, does not include LinkedIn. LinkedIn is one of the most powerful tools in your networking arsenal. At its essence, it allows you to keep yourself in the front of the minds of all the people you meet (either in person or digitally). Here are a few of my favorite aspects to LinkedIn.
- Online Resume | Your profile is an online resume that allows you to showcase your talent, expertise and abilities laid out just like a professional resume. This is one of the first places companies will look when interviewing potential candidates.
- Recommendations | This is my favorite part of the whole site: an eternally growing list of recommendations and references in the professional world. Carried right along with your resume are people (along with their faces and links to prove it came from them) who have recommended you throughout your entire career.
- Your News | The news feed allows you to post updates and articles, giving you a chance to show expertise in your subject matter and subtly keep yourself in front of your connections. It also provides you with education and learning opportunities through other articles listed and recommend based on your profile.
- Connections | Simply put, the more people you connect with, the more people who will see your posts in the news feed and can access your profile to see all you can do. After a while, your networking start to multiply across levels of influence; both in persona and digitally. You can truly magnify your presence.