By John Matthews, founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc.
Come on, admit it. You wish you were a better networker. Fear not, it is time to unleash your inner networker.
Networking is one part art and one part discipline and while there is more than one way to network, if your networking efforts lack discipline, a good portion of your time will be spent spinning. Excellent networkers not only are connected to lots of key people, but also know how to connect others together. That is the greatest value a networker can bring to the table – their ability to make connections for others.
All too often, networking only comes to mind when there is a need – you lost a job, you need to meet someone, etc. I often call that type of networking “911 networking” as it only gets implemented when there is an immediate void or need to be filled. “Help! I lost my job!” so I better start networking and often its way too late. Being proactive with networking allows you to foster relationships out of want, rather than need. While each of us can approach networking in our own path, here are some tips to take your proactive networking to a new level:
Be A Puzzle-Solver: Part of the fun of networking is helping connect other people. You have a slew of contacts and matching them with one another is the same as solving a puzzle. I had a contact of mine recently tell me, “Thanks to you, my two best friends in the area were from your introductions.” This is how networking is supposed to work. Proactive networkers are always looking to “solve the puzzle” and match others together. This enables making others feel great about expanding their networks and along the way, that relationship cements a little bit of you in the connection.
Give To Get: As you solve more and more puzzles, you will find more opportunities will come your way in respect to introductions and connections. My approach is to foster enough network connections for others and don’t expect to get many in return immediately. It is clearly the approach of “giving to get” over time. Expecting immediate returns on your “networking time investment” will only leave you disappointed with the results. In some cases it may take months or years (or never, to be candid) in order to have networking “pay off”. But, like a good salesman, filling the hopper with enough opportunities puts your networking game plan on the right track.
Be A GREAT Notetaker: One of the most asked questions of me is how do I keep track of all of my networking activity. It is simple, I am a great notetaker. There are no shortcuts in this area. Either you capture someone’s contact information or you don’t. Accurately capturing the contact information and organizing them in a database serves two purposes: 1) it enables you to stay in touch with that contact and foster a long-lasting relationship; and 2) it allows you to be the “go-to guy” by others seeking contacts. If someone asks you for the contact information of one of your connections that you have met and you do not have any way to reach them, your value to the asking partner is diminished. Being a great notetaker takes discipline, but in the long haul, makes you a valued networker.
Become The Epicenter Of Activity: All of the above activities firmly entrench you in the epicenter of networking activity. Whether people are contacting you for job referrals or recruiters are reaching out for job applicant referrals, a disciplined networker gets insights in either direction. Epicenter networkers, or tippers as others have referred them, stay in the loop on a number of fronts. In turn, they continue to stay front-and-center by actively solving connection puzzles. While your networking may not get you to epicenter “status”, nonetheless, you can clearly elevate your networking to broaden your alliances both coming and going.
Foster Relationships: Relationships can be fostered on a number of fronts either through phone, email, in person, or even social media sites, such as LinkedIn. Each of these communication devices represent a number of networking touch points. Over the years I have maintained numerous relationships with colleagues that I have never met or even spoken too. In some cases, we communicate solely by email or texting. It is really amazing that some of these relationships have spanned more than a decade! It is all about caring and helping others combined with being a great notetaker. Make the effort to foster relationships and you will find that the rewards will be plenty.
Networking takes discipline. I have nearly 3,000 contacts in LinkedIn – many of which I know personally – as well as over 7,000 contacts in my database. I am writing this today just before I add another 8 contacts to my database from my meetings yesterday. Networking is an ongoing effort and once it becomes part of your daily routine, it will become less like networking and more like a way of life. Many of my connections view me as a great networker, but to be honest, all I really like to do is help others out.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.