I’m back! I had a long absence since my first post but now that the holiday madness has settled, I will look to get on a regular blogging schedule. I hope everyone had a great end to 2013 and I wish for 2014 to bring many blessings!!!
In this post I really want to write about networking and what it has done for me. I define networking as the building and growing of connections and relationships that could potentially have an impact in your life and career. Networking is something to be embraced and encouraged and when used effectively, it can open up doors and roads previously beyond your wildest dreams.
You may ask, why network? Why is it important? How could it possibly help? Thinking back on my experiences, I was one of those individuals that saw networking as a waste of time, as something that wasn’t needed, to put it simply, I was shy and did not want to bother with it. Fortunately for me, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I matured and gained more experiences, growing out of that mentality. Networking is important because it is your reach, it is a pool of opportunities, it is a fountain of knowledge, it is the foundation to a lasting and successful professional career. As you grow your network, you augment your reach, you create new opportunities, and you increase the knowledge you can call upon.
Another important question is, how do you build your network? When do you do it? This is undoubtedly the most difficult aspect of networking, because it is the only one that takes us out of our comfort zones. I remember that I used to be very shy about approaching new individuals and because of this, my network suffered. A book that helped me overcome this was Dale Carnegie’s timeless classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and I highly recommend it to all my readers.
While not a book made specifically for networking, it does give you an enlightening lesson on how to communicate and influence people, and ultimately, that’s what networking is. To build your network you must show two things, 1) willingness to meet new people and 2) genuine interest, Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” These two are essential, you have to be eager to meet new individuals, learn about what they do, who they are, and you have to do this while showing a genuine interest in them. My approach, whether in business meetings, conferences, or events, was to introduce myself and ask “what is your background?”, it is a simple, open question that can quickly develop into a conversation. As I practiced, it became easier and easier until my fear or shyness was completely gone. This is something easy that anyone could try! The other important point is that I’m a strong believer that networking is a 24 hour job. You must always be alert and ready to accept new networking opportunities as they come up throughout your regular day. This could be a two minute elevator conversation, a quick chat in a coffee shop, or just a familiar face that you ran into. You MUST always be ready, pen in hand, business cards out, because that one person that you had a conversation with could be the one that leads you to a new job or a new opportunity.
Finally, how do you use your network? How do you maintain it? Today, communicating with other individuals has never been easier. You have a host of options readily available (Facebook, LinkedIn, Email, Mobile Phones, Skype, Whatsapp, FaceTime) which you can use to reach out to any individual, anywhere on the planet. I recall about a week ago, I needed some advice on website design (not my expertise). I tapped into my network and quickly had a conversation going with one of my classmates who resides in the UK and he gave me all the information I needed. Another example, going further back, while trying to get a bit more information on banking careers, another one of my classmates (South Africa!) kindly agreed to set up a Skype call and we spoke for about an hour about all the different branches of banking etc. My last example, on a more local level, was how I was able to obtain a new position through my network’s help in connecting me with the right individual and vouching for me based on previous times’ spent together. Using your network is as simple as a quick email, message, or an invitation for a coffee. The examples provided showed the benefits of relationships that I’ve developed and demonstrated the power of networking. A small amount of effort in making a genuine connection was returned to me tenfold in knowledge and opportunity. Maintaining these relationships requires follow up of at least once a month, maybe every couple of weeks. That follow up and communication needs to be there because otherwise, that relationship can be lost very quickly.
With this information in hand, I encourage everyone to get out there and meet people, don’t stop meeting people!!! Make connections, emotionally and professionally, place people’s needs over your own, cultivate and develop mutually beneficial relationships, and expand your network, sky’s the limit! I truly hope that you have enjoyed this article and I welcome all feedback. In the coming weeks I will write some more about my recent experiences. Have a wonderful week!