Several years ago, I put together a special workshop on networking for the Women’s Foodservice Forum, the largest gathering of female senior executives from worldwide food companies. For many people, networking is a dirty word, as we’ve come to associate it with “working” a room to try to sell something to somebody. However, as I told the audience, networking can become fun and rewarding if you can change your mindset. Here are two big ideas that will help you become superb at networking.
1. It is Not About You
Real networking is 100% about helping other people. The goal is to offer advice, connections, and ideas, not to close a deal. Your focus should be on meeting as many people as possible to help as many people as possible. Instead of talking about how great your company, products, or service are, be curious. Ask them if they have any business challenges where they need help. When they share a challenge or issue with you, please do everything you can to assist them. Their problem may have nothing to do with your business, they may not want to buy anything from you, but when you focus on helping them, they typically reciprocate and help you grow your business. When you think about networking this way, it is gratifying to spend time looking for ways to help them.
2. The Three C’s of Networking
People will not want to network with you, work with you, or refer you if you’re not exceedingly good at what you do. You have to demonstrate that you are highly competent and continuously learning and trying to improve. The goal of networking is to meet as many high-quality people as possible, and the only way to do this is to be someone they want to spend time with.
I mentioned above that you want to network with “high-quality people,” let me explain what I mean by that. The goal of networking is to connect with individuals who are already well-connected. You want to connect with the connectors! The people who have a vast network that might be a good fit for your products and services. When you demonstrate a high level of competence and work hard to help someone like this, they don’t tell a few people about how great you are; they tell dozens, hundreds, thousands, or with the Internet, millions.
I’ll give you an example. When my first book, Awesomely Simple, was released, it won a few awards then dropped to number 1137 on the Amazon bestsellers list. Not very impressive. Then, Guy Kawasaki, the former marketing director at Apple, tweeted that he liked and recommended my book. It shot up from number 1137 to number 11 in the next 24 hours. Guy has 1.4 million followers. That is the power of connecting with the connector.
If you have the first two C’s in abundance, but you lack honesty, integrity, and character, then it doesn’t matter how much you network. People will not want you in their network. I had a meeting a few weeks ago with the CEO of a large company who said to me: “You know, John; honesty is not the best policy. It’s the only policy. Tell the truth 99 times and lie once, and people will say you are a liar.” The single most significant factor in building strong relationships across your network is to be a person of unquestionable honesty and integrity.
The three questions you must ask yourself every day are:
- What did I learn today to increase my competence?
- Who did I meet and help today?
- Did I live my values today?
If you connect with the right people, connectors, who know you deliver high-quality products and services, and they also know you are a person of character, you will build a valuable and robust network.