Several years ago, I was asked to put together a special workshop on networking for the Women’s Foodservice Forum, the largest gathering of female senior executives from food companies around the world. For a lot of people, including many of the women in attendance, networking is a dirty word, as we’ve come to associate it with “working” a room to try to sell something to somebody. Also, many people, including me, find it intimidating to walk into a room of people you don’t know and try to strike up a conversation. However, as I told the audience, if you can change your mindset, networking can become fun and rewarding. Here are two big ideas that will help you become superb at networking.
It is NOT About You
Real networking is 100 percent about helping other people. You’re not there to sell anything or find leads; you are there to find people you can assist and support. You’re there to offer advice, connections and ideas, not to close a deal. Your focus should be on how you can meet as many people as possible so you can help as many people as possible. Instead of going around the room asking people what they do in hopes they will ask you the same thing back and you can tell them about how great your company, product or service is, ask them if they have any business challenges they are looking for help with. When they share a challenge or issue with you, do everything you can to help them or connect them with somebody who can assist them. Their issue may have nothing to do with your business and they may not want to buy anything from you, but when you focus on helping them, they typically reciprocate and try to assist you in growing your business. When you think about networking this way, it makes it very enjoyable to spend time around people looking for ways to help them.
The Three C’s of Networking
Competence: 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 clearly demonstrate that you are highly competent and that you are continuously learning, growing 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 who those folks want to spend time with.
Connection: I mentioned above that you want to network with “high-quality people;” let me explain what I mean by that. The goal in networking is to connect with people I call “hubs,” or individuals who, by the nature of the jobs they have, are very well connected across the community. They serve as the hubs of large networks of business and community leaders. 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 or thousands. This is an extremely powerful idea in building a large and high-quality network.
Character: 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 networks. 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 biggest factor in building strong relationships across your network is to be a person of unquestionable honesty and integrity. If you are connecting with a great deal of the right people — especially people who are hubs — and they know you are very, very good at something that is valuable in the marketplace and they also know you are a person of honesty and integrity, you will build a strong and valuable network.
So, the three questions you have to ask yourself every day are:
What did I learn today?
Who did I meet and help today?
Did I live my values today?
If you focus on these three questions, I promise everything will work out well in the end.
JOHN SPENCE has been recognized as one of the top 100 business thought leaders and as one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world. He is an international keynote speaker and management consultant and has written five books on business and life success. www.johnspence.com