Networking is critical for success. Yes, online social networking has changed this, but meeting in our "protein forms" still can't be beat. It's amazing how some people still get this all wrong.
I love networking (both online and offline). It's not just about meeting new and interesting people, it's also about personal expansion and self-actualization. It's for learning about new things and being able to understand people better. In trying to understand the dynamics of networking (especially for someone like me who is more introverted and socially awkward at networking-type events), there is no one who has taught me more about the power of relationships (and their value to business) than the best-selling business book author, Jeffrey Gitomer (The Sales Bible and the Little [Insert Color Here] Book Of... series).
Give value to others before expecting anything in return.
Those who go to networking events and hand out business cards like they're tossing out ninja stars rarely make any semblance of a dent in the networking world. In fact, they tend to be the ones that are relegated to the same lot as snake oil salesperson. What many people fail to do is provide the value first. Gitomer (who you can also hear me have a conversation with right here: SPOS #201 - Marketing And Sales With Jeffrey Gitomer) pushes his audience to think about giving a lot more before asking for anything in return.
"We should grab a coffee."
Any form of meeting has to either have a balance of value for both individuals or, if you're the one asking for a meeting because you need some kind of favor (or want to pick someone's brain), you better be sure that you're also coming into the meeting with something of value for the person you have invited. Gitomer tells the story of loose connections who offer to take him out to lunch to pick his brain. His response is brilliant: "I'll tell you what," he says. "You pay me $5000 and I'll buy you lunch!" So, while the point may be that there's never a free lunch, the spirit of Gitomer's thought is super-powerful: if you want to meet with the sole purpose of sponging off of the individual, what is in it for them?
You never know.
That being said, sometimes the meetings with the least amount of structure or reason are the ones that eventually create the most benefit (both personally and professionally), but few busy people have the time and energy to sift through all of the requests to validate this concept. So, if you do have someone that you want to ask out for a coffee to pick their brains or ask for something, here are some pointers on how to make it happen...
- Let them know up front what the intent is of the meeting.
- Let them know how they will benefit from meeting you as well.
- Let them know, specifically, what you would like to discuss.
- Let them know how much time you need.
- Give them a very big out.
Intent and the out.
It's flattering that people do want to connect, and you should try to meet as many people as possible (what's good for the goose...), but I'm shocked by how few people can clearly define what the intent of the meeting is and it's equally shocking at how few people give an easy way for the person being invited to get out of the invitation without feeling guilty or looking bad.
You can't force this stuff.
Great networking happens when both parties can benefit. You can't force that. So in thinking about those who you would like to approach, really focus in on the intent of the ask and give them a guilt-free "out." More often than not, being that open and candid will probably get you exactly what you had hoped for, versus being ambiguous (because you're afraid they'll say "no" because you're asking them for something) and resentful if things don't go your way ("that person is an idiot because they turned down my glorious offer of me buying them coffee and trying to sell them something!").
Networking must be a two-way street. Which part of the road are you on?