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Stop Networking – Start Connecting. 6 Tips for developing a richer networking experience

This post originally appeared as a guest column on The Executive Roundtable Blog. Click here for the original posting

We all know that networking is an important way to meet people who could help you; those who might one day refer business to you, or open the door to a new opportunity. That’s certainly true, but that’s really only part of the picture. Networking is also about connecting, sharing, learning and finding ways to develop meaningful relationships with others. A network can be a source of new work but it can also be a source of information, ideas and reality-checking feedback. Your network contacts can deliver business opportunities and introduce you to people you may not otherwise meet, but only if you remember to feed it from time to time with your own ideas and support. As much as your network can help you, you are also a contributor and participant in the growth of others.

Here are 6 tips for developing a more productive network. A network that will provide ideas, feedback, business opportunities and maybe the talent pool for your future dream role.

1 – It begins with your approach What are you thinking as you approach new people for the first time? If you approach each new relationship with a view to finding out how someone might be able to help you, you’re doing it all wrong. Your first task when you meet people is to find out as much as you can about them and areas of common interest. Then – your role is to think about how YOU might be able to help THEM! Learn what they need to progress, and how you might be able to help. You will ask different questions and learn far more about how someone might potentially help you if you understand more about them. The time will come later to figure out if they can assist you with anything.

2 – Recalibrate your filter system Don’t build your network exclusively at a senior level. That’s a rookie mistake and will lead you to missing opportunities to interact with some great people. Not to mention, it just makes you come off as a jerk when you dismiss junior people as less valuable. Look for connections with people who interest you and who have different life perspectives to offer. I am more interested in connecting with people who’s thinking complements and even challenges mine, than their current job title. They may be CEOs and VPs already, or perhaps they are really smart high school graduates who are looking at the world around them with an inquisitive nature. Either way, you need them all.

3 – Networking opportunities are all around us There are so many places where you can find new connections for your network. Don’t just consider the typical business networking ‘events’ as the only place to find great new contacts. Consider speakers at the conference you attend, candidates you have interviewed, people you have interviewed with, people who reach out to you for help, clients you meet, others who work with your clients, professors, other students, mentors, entrepreneurs, and the list goes on. When you meet someone interesting – ask them to connect with you on LinkedIn and make sure you continue your conversations offline. From time to time check back through all of your connections and invite them to ‘catch-up’. You never know when doing so might lead to a fascinating new opportunity for one of you.

4 – Your network as a source of inspiration Your network should be a living, breathing assortment of interesting and intelligent people who can inspire you to be your best in everything you do. When you are working on a new project, or researching a new strategy, your network may provide some interesting perspectives. Consider members of your network to be your personal board of advisors. Identify people in your network whose opinions you trust to help you shape your thinking. Don’t be afraid to use members of your network as a sounding board or as a reality check for your ideas.

5 – Your network as a hidden talent pool Just like the fact that there is a hidden job market and the best opportunities come to you through your network, so can the best candidates! Your job as a leader is not only to ensure the strategic health of your team and your business but also to actively identify and recruit talent wherever you may find it. Keep track of others’ careers as they grow. When you interview a start candidate who wasn’t the right fit for your vacancy, stay in touch with them, and see how you can help them land a suitable role. Even if you don’t have a position for them, you may know someone who does. When you have a position that requires the best talent you can find, you’ll be able to tap your junior network members for their potential knowledge of others at a similar career level, who may be interested. And the good karma and satisfaction that comes from being able to help talented individuals reach their potential will fulfill your inner leader-soul.

6 – Your role in feeding your network Networks should be dynamic, fluid and multi-directional. How many of your network members know each other already? Which of them might benefit from meeting each other? How can you facilitate introductions between your network contacts? Who might be able to work together or do business together? Who might just get a kick out of meeting each other? You may be the hub but you don’t need to keep your network contacts as spokes. They can get huge value from being able to cross-fertilize ideas and support across the entire network. When I meet someone new whom I would like to help, I often invite him or her to look through my network connections on LinkedIn and ask that I introduce them to anyone else they would like to meet.

This flow of connections, sharing, engaging and learning from each other is what I mean when I say stop networking and start connecting. Try it – You might start thinking of networking not as a chore but as essential to your leadership identity as breathing.  I know I do.

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The Elephant named Google and the Brand called YOU!

Every bit as relevant as it was the day it was published in 1997, Tom Peters article on “The Brand Called You” has become one of those common sense and fundamental ideas that is often talked about in universities and business schools as a way to stand out in the job market and a way to ensure you land that all important first ‘career’ position. If you haven’t read it recently, click here for a copy!

Since the publication of that article, a whole industry has grown up around personal branding and helping people to manage the impressions formed by recruiters, head hunters and potential employers to secure a place in their chosen profession. Many see personal branding as a tool to use if you happen to be actively seeking a new position. You set up a Linked-in profile, add a few recommendations, dust off your resume, clean out your Facebook profile and un-friend any dubious characters in preparation for putting yourself back on the market. Not really something that you need to think about unless you are actively looking for a new adventure, right?

WRONG!

If you are an Entrepreneur or Business Owner, including Equity Partners in Professional Service Firms; your personal brand and your overall business brand are often synonymous.

Hard to convince your clients and prospective clients that your business will act in their best interests, or that responsiveness, accountability and value are intrinsic to your service if these characteristics are not portrayed by you as an individual.

If you are not yet a business owner, but imagine one day adding the word Partner or President to your card, then you must treat personal branding as an essential part of how you operate daily. Knowing what it takes to create a strong reputation and to manage the impression that you form with clients, colleagues and prospects through every interaction is essential to ensuring that when the time comes, the best opportunities will find their way to you.

So what does Google have to do with it?

In these days of social and digital media, we have never had so many tools to enable us to amplify and manage our personal reputations. What you say, what you do, where you are seen, who you choose to associate with, what you think about a particular business issue… all these elements of your personal brand can be demonstrated and shared through social tools.  When people meet you for the first time you can bet they will be ‘googling’ your name as fast as you can say “nice to meet you”.  When they do, its important that your name and your accomplishments are congruent with the way you present yourself.

The opposite is also true; a poorly considered comment, a questionable display of behaviour, inappropriate actions, indiscriminate associations can also appear as part of the tapestry that becomes your personal brand and reputation. Google never forgets!!

Three things I know about Branding (personal or traditional)

  • Brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what others say and think about you.
  • Your brand is created through every experience and interaction people have with you – live, online, in written form, from a distance, third hand, and brand impressions can be both fleeting and memorable…
  • ACTION trumps Intellect every time. Unless you are an academic, you don’t build a reputation on what you think, or what you know, or what you understand, but rather how you apply all that to what you do and how that impacts others. 

Branding tools for everyone…

Linkedin, Facebook, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Face to Face Meetings, Telephone Calls, Coffee meetings Emails, Blogs, Articles, Seminars, Conferences, Public Presentations, Teaching opportunities, Volunteering opportunities… These are all part of the personal branding tool-kit. How many of these are you using purposefully today to manage and sustain your chosen brand characteristics? Social media may have made it easier for you to develop your reputation, but once you have built it, you also need to nurture and protect it. Choose your tools (shields) wisely!

You’ da man! (building your offline ‘Klout’)

When “Building your offline Klout” was announced as the theme for week 3 of the #UsGuys #UsBlogs weekend blogging challenge, I was initially uncertain which direction to take…

Is the topic suggestive of building your network, establishing your personal brand, raising your profile or becoming a trusted authority? That I immediately started to think of different ways to take the discussion shows what a great topic choice this is! Thanks to @DanPerezFilms for the idea!

The fact is, the concepts of klout, influence, personal presence, sway and authority all existed long before the invention of social media and algorithms. Your measure as a professional is often less about what you say you do, and more about what others say and think about you. With a hat tip to #UsGuys everywhere, You’ Da Man! can apply to anyone!  Just a fun way of saying you’re cool, you’re reliable, you’re knowledgeable, you always get the job done… etc. However you want to describe it, do you do the things which set you aside as an individual and as a professional so that people trust in what you have to say?

So what are some of the things you can do to establish your personal brand and reputation in the ‘real’ world?

My first and most obvious answer to this question is simply “Deliver”… There are no shortcuts to developing a strong reputation and job number one is:

Do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it.

Realizing that’s just a tad simplistic and facetious, I decided to dig further into my coaching tool set and figure out the most important steps I tell people who are trying to develop their professional reputation.

Focus on relationships

Personal brand and reputation will develop as a by-product of the things you do. Focus on meeting people, building relationships, having conversations, getting to understand everything you can about the people you meet etc. Stay connected to people you qualified alongside. Make strong connections with people in your peer group and be a supporter to each other as you develop professionally. The relationships you build now will be the foundation of your social currency in the future.

Voluntary acts of help

When you meet new people, explore what their interests are and where they are heading in terms of their professional career. Then surprise them by asking how you can help them get there. It seems counter intuitive but by offering to help someone move ahead, you become a far more trustworthy companion for the ride. Its an example of what Chris Brogan and Julien Smith might call a Trust Agent move. The other day I met with a Journalist from Canadian Lawyer Magazine (after sending him an email referencing his recent articles & inviting him for a coffee). We explored how he gets his ideas and what his views are on the challenges affecting the Legal profession. I also asked him what’s next for him in his career path. My intent was genuine curiousity and understanding of the individual but the outcome is increased trust and warmth in the relationship.

Give and Take

Building personal influence is a two-way venture. It is intensely irritating and unappealing to watch people cut through a room, making a beeline only for the people they believe are the most important and influential, and dismissing others on the way. These are the same people who make every conversation about them. Who are less interested in learning and more interested in making sure everyone knows they are in the building. I’m sorry but you will never be “da man!’ to me with that approach. I don’t care how important you believe you are. If you haven’t got time for the up and comers and the people who move in different social networks than you do, your learning will exist in ever decreasing circles. If you have to tell everyone how important you are….

Mix it up

It is easy to forget that you are the common denominator or connecting point to many people who might benefit from getting to know each other. Maybe they are in complimentary businesses, maybe they are in similar roles or career transition points. The fact is that the people in your network would very likely benefit from meeting each other!  Set up coffee or lunch with small groups (4-5 people max) where you can introduce and cross-pollinate your network circles. They will get to know each other and you can get to learn more about them by observing the connection from a new perspective.

Be consistent, reliable, authentic

The impact of networks and building your professional reputation is cumulative. Networks build over time and can crumble when you stop building and managing them properly. Stay connected and keep reaching out to understand and help others. I see many people who have developed an enormous amount of goodwill and social influence through a long and illustrious career, but then rely on the celebrity of their past to secure their future. Sorry – not good enough! Maybe you were a big deal once, but you have to keep working at it to continue being a big deal. Just look at the backwash that’s happened towards Malcolm Gladwell following his February 2nd post in The New Yorker – Does Egypt Need Twitter? Once the media darling for game changing works like “The Tipping Point”, now people wonder if he’s keeping up.

Don’t try too hard

If you are only ever focused on doing things because they may raise your credibility factor, it comes across as insincere and self-serving. You cannot ‘game’ real life klout.

One persons guru is another person’s fool…

Not everyone you meet with will ‘get’ you. Some just won’t find you credible or worthy of the attention you appear to get from others. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Sometimes your efforts to connect with them will crash and burn and they will resist your charms. Accept it and move on. You’ll never have 100% klout with everyone.

I’d love to hear what you think. Got any other ways you like to build your offline reputation?

To Dan Perez for suggesting this topic for #UsBlogs week 3 – You’ da man! Click here for Dan’s original post on raising your offline Klout. Outstanding!

Updated with the WEEK 3 ROUND-UP  – BUILDING YOUR OFFLINE KLOUT via Brand Directions

Do you have time to make a new friend today?

Today an inbound unsolicited cold call got me thinking. Do we always welcome new contacts into our lives with an open attitude, or do we inadvertently shoo them away with quiet reserve and resistance?

“Have I caught you at a bad time? the caller asked, No? then please allow me to introduce myself…”

And so began a delightful conversation with a new business contact. Yes, it was a sales call, and there was a certain amount of candour over the reason for the call and the hope of the commercial future it might bring, but there was also a warm and genuine exchange of two people who might benefit from getting to know each other.

It was not so much in the words the caller used. Rather it was the gentle, polite and invitational way in which they were delivered. Translated, they said “do you have time to make a new friend today?”  Listening to the subtext, I paused and opened up for a great conversation with an intelligent, friendly and entertaining business contact. Now perhaps someone else might use exactly the same lexicon and I would have found their delivery presumptuous, manipulative, intrusive. But with a perfect tone and a pitch that can only evolve over time, the caller proceeded to intrigue, amuse and entice me into a conversation that proved fun and purposeful. Light banter, exchange of relevant information, occasional non-intrusive questions, a fair exchange of air time…within moments I am seduced, my mood is lightened and my intellect tweaked by the breath of fresh air that just approached my desk by way of an unsolicited phone call.

Got me thinking…

What if there is no such thing as a cold call. Only a cold manner. Maybe the resulting mood or temperature of the call is altered simply by the manner in which the caller or the recipient approaches the potential opportunity for initiating a new relationship. If you are not open to being approached by a new friend or contact, how do you know what opportunities you may be overlooking? Maybe that stranger calling you is simply a friend you haven’t met yet …