How to Start Networking, Today

I wrote yesterday’s post fully aware that it was not a recipe, but a Cook’s Illustrated style preamble to the recipe itself.   Before you bake a cake, for example, you have to be sure you have fresh baking powder, a couple of eggs in the fridge, and the right kind of flour.  At least.

But if you have never introduced yourself to someone you always wanted to meet, if you are not the one in your crowd who strikes up a conversation with the person in front of you in the check out line, then the steps don’t come naturally.

I don’t think that networking is my strongest suit; I especially don’t do that well when placed in the company of all-star networkers like those found in the Chambers of Commerce and Leadership organizations around the world.  Networking is a lot like flirting—it isn’t that substantial, it’s more of a process.  You can’t be serious or substantial when you do it.  You can’t be weighty.  Your needs can’t be the subject (or the predicate).

So here is a simple review of the process of networking.

Step 1.  Forget the word networking.  Just like the recipe has no place in the actual cake, at the end of the process, you will celebrate and enjoy your new friends, not your network.  Make the word go out of your head.

Step 2.  Identify your objective.  Do you want new friends, different friends and acquaintances, ideas, clients, information, facilitation, donations, more folks who know who you are?  If your only answer is that you want a job, think hard about what will happen when you get that job.  I can only say that I have spent a lot of time with people who befriended me in the interest of getting a job, who I never heard from again after they got it.

Step 3.  Create a database.  Oh this is so hard for people to do.  You must, must keep track of your connections and their contact information.  Make notes.

Step 4.  Set goals.  Meet new people every day, every week, or every month.  The time frame isn’t important, the goal and the filter is.  Your job is to meet people and get to know them and what they are interested in.  To share a moment and express your interest in them.  Ask where they got the blouse.  Note the book is one you have read and liked, or one you might be interested in reading.

Step 5.  Practice the art of making friends everywhere you go.  Start by smiling and making eye contact.  Strike up a conversation; if you do not get a response or the response you want, let it go and move on.

Step 6.  Call someone you don’t know, to ask for information.  No, I didn’t say email them.  Phone call, please.  Identify yourself.  Tell the person who answers the phone who you are calling and why.  If you get through to the person you want to speak with, thank him or her for taking the call.  Ask your question, get your answer, say thank you, say good bye.  Follow up with letter, note, or email.

This doesn’t always go the way you want.  You have to practice, you have to try, and you have to get comfortable.  I can’t stress enough that having a smile on your face will put a smile in your voice and will make you feel better no matter what the outcome.

Step 7.  Make a date.  “Can I buy you a latte?”  “Can we talk over lunch?”  “Would you like to come to our meeting?”  “Jan and I are putting together a group?”  Sooner or later you have to make a move.  Prepare more for the acceptance of your offer than for the rejection you might get.  The answer to the “no” is “perhaps another time; I’d love to get together.” And let it go; the next offer should come from them.

When you offer is accepted, get to the place of meeting first and wait for your acquaintance.  Pay for the coffee or lunch, or split the bill.  Keep your conversation low key.  Agree on your commonalities, but reserve the right to get to know someone and reflect on the meeting before you agree to anything else.  “Let me check with my (calendar, banker, spouse, assistant, or accountant) are all fair responses to most requests.  Then respond later as you wish.

Step 8.  Be honest with yourself.  Not all prospective friends can end up being friends.  Let it go as soon as you know it isn’t for you.  Some folks, if you hang with them long enough, will do more than just not be helpful:  they will hurt you.  Your instincts on this may be better than you realize—if you are not comfortable, let it go.

Step 9.  Circle back and stay in touch.  Don’t let too many people drift out of your life—time goes by very fast.  When you do reconnect, establish just how much time went by.  This is when a database can help.

Step 10.  Stay connected to people, but not to slights, wrongs, or hurts.  Sometimes a misunderstanding is just that.  Give folks a chance to grow and a chance to clear things up.  Get into the habit of sending a personal note or an email when you come across an interesting tidbit that might interest the other person.  Do not send your email lists links to spam.  Those jokes and funny writings that circulate are busily picking up URLs that will soon receive a fair amount of advertising garbage.

It is a little like dating, but making new friends is never exclusive.  It always leads to more friends, broader relationships and understanding, and a better understanding of yourself and what you can do for others.

2 responses to “How to Start Networking, Today

  1. Thanks for this post, Cathy! Good stuff. I’m an outgoing person who freezes with networking — how can that be? These are good steps I’ll try to keep in mind.

    Can you suggest what a networking database might look like?

  2. Good question, Tyler. I’ll blog about that next week, but for the moment, it’s a chart, notebook, or spreadsheet. The subject of each entry is the name of your connection, the data is what is important to you about that individual. We all meet people and make the connection, but a year later it’s a little harder to remember much about the moment. If you keep track, when you reconnect you’ll be able to jog your memory and strengthen your connection.

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