Ask the Expert: Effective networking -- defined and applied
It's safe to assume we all agree that networking is a critical element in many professionals' business and career development. I'd also add that, by my own accounts, networking is every bit as ambiguous and misdefined as it is popular.
When working with all professionals, ranging from students to experienced executives, my approach always begins with determining your own personal definition of networking before you put the glad-handing, business-card distribution wheels into motion. In most cases this will preserve sanity, manage your own expectations, and produce results.
Let's dive a little deeper.
What is networking anyway? Most dictionary definitions will involve interacting, meeting new people, establishing contacts, etc. These are all well and good but you need to establish practical definitions as your guiding principles as you 'get out there'.
Networking is A Discipline
My own personal definition of networking is: 'The discipline to take others' agendas more seriously than your own.' For those of you who have attended the after-hours events, you know the people you want to see and the people you want to avoid.
Often, the person you enjoy talking to shows interest in what you have to say. They take the time to understand what you are trying to accomplish. For those few black-belt networkers out there, they even go so far as to establish connections for you and help you achieve your goals.
When I go to a networking event my goal is always to make connections and only describe my business when directly asked. Instead of walking out of the event having force-fed my card to a handful of strangers, I exit having made a noticeable, tangible difference in a select few professional careers.
Networking is A Way of Life
Much like a personal trainer will tell you that exercise is a way of life and not just a phase, so is networking. To follow the analogy a step further, you can't expect to see results after one day at the gym the same way you can't expect to close the deal of land the job after one chamber of commerce event.
The practice of networking must become part of your regular daily interaction with colleagues, clients, and partners. Would one of your clients benefit from knowing someone in your network? Make the connection! Networking only pays predictable dividends when momentum is created. The formula for success is less than scientific - hard work, dedication, and more hard work.
If it was easy, everyone would be great at it.
Networking is Goal Oriented
Whether I'm preparing for a networking event or attempting to network with a prospective client, setting goals is critical to stay focused. My challenge is to set a goal - before the next networking event - which will yield results.
To get you started, create five new connections for others at your next event and work tirelessly until the job is done. Regardless of how relevant the connections are, your efforts won't go unnoticed and people will begin asking who you are and what you do. Go to 10 more events and accomplish the same goal. Then, do the math. That's right, you've become the driving force in establishing fifty new connections (in farming terms, that equates to planting 50 high-quality seeds), making a difference in the lives of up to one hundred other professionals.
Going back to the previous two points, maintaining this 'discipline' as a 'way of life' will make it very difficult for you to go unnoticed.
Networking is a game of quality and quantity. Simply meeting people will cover the quantity end of the game. The results: the true art of networking is in the quality. Being a difference-maker and resisting the urge of perpetual self-promotion (an art not easily mastered) will establish you as an effective networker and someone with whom others want to engage and do business.
I am pleased to partake in the 'Ask-the-Expert' series and look forward to answering your questions about this article or about product development in general at abihub.org/ask-the-expert/.
- - - - - - - -
About Jason Alexander:
Alexander is managing partner of BANK W Holdings LLC and its portfolio companies Alexander Technology Group, KBW Financial Staffing & Recruiting, and The Nagler Group. His passion for client service and dedication to the local community have resulted in rapid growth and multiple awards for his businesses in recent years. He was named by Business NH magazine as one of the state's top 25 leaders for the future and received the New Hampshire Business Review's Business Excellence Award for Technology in 2010.
Prior to co-founding Alexander Technology Group and BANK W Holdings LLC, alexander held management and director roles for multiple international services, staffing, and software companies.
He also serves as a director/advisor on the boards of local organizations such as the New Hampshire High Technology Council, NHTI, Great Bay Community College, Granite State College, and Pinkerton Academy. He speaks frequently at college campuses and professional events throughout New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Alexander earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Keene State College.