How to Network Without Feeling Like a Schmuck

Having the ability to build powerful connections is a key to success in any professional service industry, whether you’re an accountant, lawyer, banker, sales professional, consultant, coach, or a chiropractor. And networking is just as important to job seekers and entrepreneurs. Why? Because people do business with (and hire) those that they know, like, and trust.

In the simplest terms, networking is about making new connections. So why does it seem so complicated? Just because it’s a “business activity” doesn’t mean we should act any different than we normally would.  But often our efforts can come across as artificial or forced… and we feel like a schmuck.  

But does networking have to be this way?

No. And here’s how…

A classic coaching strategy used to overcome resistance reframes how we see something. So if we change our perspective of networking from a “business activity” to a process of “making friends in the business community” then our approach naturally also changes. Our attitude is lighter, more playful, and we’re more authentic.

To help you reframe how you see networking and inspire a new approach, I’ve pulled together 5 strategies that are sure to help you build genuine, powerful connections without feeling artificial or pushy. These strategies are based on my own experiences in growing my business. In fact, when I launched Career Clarity in 2007 my entire list of business contacts would have fit on the back of a cocktail napkin. Today, I’m proud to have developed a network of nearly 300 like-minded professionals. Here’s how I did it.

 

Think Quality – Not Quantity

1. The number one goal in networking is to help other people. A business coach once told me, “don’t expect any opportunities until you’ve provided someone else value.” True dat. Most people approach networking looking for what they can gain, not what they have to give, and this approach can come across as selfish, over-reaching, and desperate.

The remedy is to approach all new contacts and existing relationships with a giver’s mindset. Keep asking, “What do you need?” or “How can I help?” Did they speak at the event? Offer your testimonial for their website! Are they new to the area? Recommend your favorite massage therapist! It doesn’t necessarily have to be business related. Providing a solution to their most urgent problem will catapult your reputation as someone who’s genuine and caring.

2. You don’t need a lot of people – just the RIGHT people. In the age of virtual friends or followers, it’s easy to think that more is always better. But a shotgun approach to building your network is rarely productive. It’s better to have 5 powerful connections than a list of 500 unresponsive followers. So spend some time considering who the players are in your field and where your ideal client hangs out. Then invest your time (and effort) appropriately.

3. Listen more than you talk. Powerful connections are built on trust and understanding. So talk less about yourself and spend the time getting to know new contacts by asking about their goals and challenges. This is an especially good strategy for new professionals or the introvert who loathes talking about herself. Find out what’s important to people and then show them how you can help. You’ll be surprised at what opportunities you uncover!

 

Build Beyond “Hello”

4. Get beyond the usual ‘smile and handshake.‘ Networking is so much more than just trading business cards! Sadly, most people stop short of building meaningful relationships by letting the conversation die after the first encounter. Here’s what I’ve

•Nurture new contacts by following up 2-3 days after your introduction. This can be an email, a phone call, or short note that touches on the highlights of your initial conversation and then provides them something of value.

•Deepen existing relationships with regular follow-ups. This could be taking them out for coffee, inviting them to a business event, sending them an article of interest, or connecting them with other people in your network. What’s ‘regular?’ It depends on the contact…

Pre-qualified prospects should get the most of your attention; weekly to every couple of days.

Contacts that have influence with your target market should be in conversation with you every month to every couple of weeks.

Industry thought leaders and colleagues will want to hear from you every month to every quarter.

•Keep it fresh! Strong business connections are like any other relationship – you have to work at keeping the conversation going and find new reasons to connect. Put another way; don’t fall into the email trap. Sending a rote “How’s it going?” email every month is more likely to earn you a reputation for being dull and annoying than the Go-To title you’re hoping for.

 

Finally, don’t rush it.

5. Expect some heavy lifting at first. If you’ve neglected your network, or are starting at ground zero as a new professional, expect to give more than you get for the first several months.  Stay patient.  When you get anxious to rush the natural rythm of relationship buidling you’ll come across as either pushy or desperate.    So try your best to maintain an abundant attitude, continue to show up and offer value wherever possible.  In doing so, you not only distinguish yourself as a powerful resource to others but also build a reserve of goodwill. Invest the time and effort and those connections will eventually reciprocate with referrals, information, and opportunities. 

When I got serious about building my business I set a goal of having a meaningful conversation with one new person each week.  Four years (and roughly 200 lattes!) later I have a network that I’m extremely proud of. It’s been built on a genuine curiosity, a desire to contribute, and consistent effort.

And many of my contacts are, indeed, close friends.

What have you done that’s brought networking results?   Where do you struggle with networking?   I’d love to hear about your own experiences – so feel free to leave a comment!

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4 Responses to “How to Network Without Feeling Like a Schmuck

  • My biggest struggle was, as a beginner, when I started networking expecting to get right from day one. It happened, I did get a client from day one! However, we know that disappointment ensued later. For the next couple of months, I got *one* more client and NO MORE. Well, looking back, that was a great thing because I learned that I wasn’t giving. The two clients I got were a “gift” from the universe.

    What I struggle with as a new entrepreneur is time. I catch myself asking: but where will I find all the time to work my netWORK, do marketing, content generation, etc? I know I will find the answer as I grow in experience.

    Thanks for writing this post, Heather.

    • You’re absolutely right, sometimes networking can feel like just another To-do on our long list.
      I’ve found that I have to be very selective in what networking events/groups I attend. If I don’t genuinely enjoy the people then it’s always struggle to find the time to go. On the flip side, if I’m having a good time then people are automatically attracted to me and my efforts are much more productive.
      So here’s the trick: find a group or cause that you can really get excited about it (even if it’s NOT related to business) and have fun. It’s the perfect Rx to for schmuck-less networking.
      Thanks for the comment, Maz!

  • Great tips on Business Networking. Like with any other skill, networking just takes time and practice. With a little perseverance these skills can become more natural and more easily drawn upon when needed. Some other very helpful free tips can be found at: http://relationshipcapital.co/op/?utm_src=bl

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