Mike Gemmell is the founder and president of Restore Our American Republic (ROAR). Prior to founding ROAR, he was a geologist specializing in groundwater resource development, a technical writer, and a freelance writer addressing environmental and other cultural issues. For more information on his professional background please see: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelmgemmell.
The Art of Networking
As the title suggests, networking is more of an art than a science. However, even artists can improve their work with knowledge, training and practice, and so can you when it comes to the issue of effective networking. And for those of you who are shy in social situations, this essay will also present to you a number of techniques that will help you overcome your shyness so that you, too, can become an outstanding networker. Effective networking is an important element of success in business and in life.
What Does It Mean To “Network”?
Harvey Mackay defines the purpose of a network as: “A network provides a path, a way of getting from point A to point B in the shortest possible time over the least possible distance.”1 In other words, to “network” is to build paths so that when you need to go from point A to point B in your professional and personal life, you can do so in the shortest possible time over the least possible distance.
Before I go into how to network, let me say a few words about how not to network. Insincerity, manipulation, social climbing, and other similar types of behavior will be very transparent, very quickly, so avoid these behaviors. For example, when you are talking to someone at a mixer or other social function, really talk to that person. Don’t be looking around the room with an eye on someone higher on the company totem pole that you can buttonhole. Beyond the embarrassment of being seen as a phony, you will also miss out on many meaningful opportunities for social interaction. Interesting and valuable people exist in all walks of life, and all stations of life, from the office of the janitor to the office of the Chief Executive.
The old saying that “life is a marathon, not a sprint…”, applies to networking as well. Take it from yours truly, someone who has really struggled with being an effective networker because of social shyness, you can learn from your mistakes and get better and more comfortable with the networking process.
Why It Is Important To Network
My vote for the world’s best networker is Harvey Mackay. Apparently others who have known him, personally, felt the same way and encouraged him to write a book on the subject, which he did: Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty (1997). Here are some of Harvey Mackay’s reasons for why it is important to network:
- A network replaces the weakness of the individual with the strength of the group.
(In other words, it expands your base of knowledge exponentially. Rather than having to look up everything on your own, you can draw on your network with a phone call or email.)
- A network can be used to get feedback on ideas.
(If you need some feedback on a report, idea, or even a new business outfit, your network
can serve as your sounding board, and send you back to the drawing board before you float a bad idea, rather than after.)
- Know thine enemy through thine network
(Having knowledge of your competitors is vital to achieving success in the business world. Your network can help you get that knowledge.)
- A network can enrich your life anywhere in the world.
(Asking the simple question: “Do you do much traveling?” to someone in your network can help connect you to other people when you are traveling in areas where you do not know anyone.)
- A network can provide you with new experiences and knowledge.
(When you want to engage in a new venture or business, contact someone in your network to get an initial idea of what you might be getting yourself into.)
- Networking can help you find new jobs or attain job security.
(Keep in touch periodically with your network and don’t be afraid to chat people up about new career opportunities that they are aware of.)
- A network can infinitely expand your financial reach.
(The activity of business barter is alive and well in the 21st century. Your network can help you with all kinds of business problems such as: excess inventory, canceled projects leaving you with unusable equipment, underutilized production time, etc.)
(I highly recommend anything written by Harvey Mackay who is one of the savviest and most-readable characters in business today. His first book was Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive and like all his others is both easy to read and filled to the brim with useful information.)
How To Build Your Network
Once you are convinced of the value of networking, the next task is to begin building your network. The logical place to begin this process is with the associations you already have such as: alumni clubs, industry associations, social clubs, hobbies you share with others, etc. The quickest way to start getting information about people — and begin building your network — is not to start talking about yourself, but rather to ask other people to talk about themselves. We all like to talk about ourselves and want to believe that others are interested in what we have to say. Take advantage of this universal fact of human nature and start asking people about themselves. And then, when they begin talking, really listen.
After talking with someone you would like to add to your network, ask for their business card. By obtaining their business card, you now have their contact information, and can use the back of their business card to write some brief notes about your initial encounter. The best networkers take the time to make notes so they can recall important details of the people they talk with. Unless you have a photographic memory, make notes of your interactions, and file them for future use.
Another important step in building your network is to consult with older more experienced folks. The more experience people have, the more they want to impart it to the up-and-coming generation. Use the wealth of knowledge that is stored within the heads of your parents, mentors, and any other acquaintances possessing a significant amount of life experience, to help you build your network.
Networking is a learned behavior, and for many people, a scary prospect due to social shyness. The following are some techniques for overcoming that shyness in networking situations.
Networking Techniques for the Socially Shy
If you are shy, as many of us are, start trying to build your network in low-risk situations. For instance, join a club or organization that you are not terribly interested in and use it to practice in. You may find once you start asking people questions about why they have joined that organization, you may come away with an appreciation of that person and the organization’s purpose.
Another low-risk approach is to join Toastmasters. Toastmasters is an organization that people join to learn to speak publicly, and to learn how to network. In other words, everyone is there for the same overall purpose that you are. When you attend your first meeting, experienced Toastmasters members will reach out to you and do everything possible to make you feel comfortable.
Remember Rule no. 1 for the socially shy — as well as anyone else trying to build a network: People like to talk, so learn how to listen, and you will be well on your way to overcoming your shyness and onto building your network.
How To Maintain Your Network
Harvey Mackay also has some excellent suggestions for maintaining your network2 summarized below:
- Use the calendar creatively.
(Birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, even changes of seasons, are good times to connect and reconnect with your network by letter, phone call, or email.)
- Watch for important community events.
(Consider attending a community event and making a donation in the name of someone in your network … without being asked to do so. Remember be genuine, people can smell phonies a mile away.)
- Observe organizational / personal / company changes
(Read the business and local activities columns of your local newspapers for members of your network who might be mentioned for promotions or other issues. Contact them afterwards to share in their good fortune. If they are receiving bad publicity, contact them to offer condolences.)
- Clip and ship
(When you run across important or useful information to someone in your network, clip the article and send it to them, or in our increasingly electronic world, inform them of the website location of the information that may be of use to them.)
- Use your pitstops constructively
(Some members of your network may be out of your local area. Don’t neglect looking them up if you’re traveling and are stopping in their area.)
- When your network is filled with static you can help clear the air
(This one is a little dicey (as even Harvey Mackay admits), but you can act as a mediator between members in your network who are having a dispute. Give it a try if you feel your are good at helping people, but tread carefully.)
- Anyone can call them when they’re up. Remember to call them when they’re down.
(Self explanatory. Be a friend at all times, fair weather, foul weather, and everything in-between.)
- Report any major changes in your situation.
(Your promotions, job changes, and other important milestones in your life are worthy of attention. Circulate the news to your network.)
- Be there.
(Be there at their big events such as weddings, graduations, etc. Don’t mail it in, if at all possible. People will remember who was there and the fact that you made the effort to attend.)
Networking is a learned behavior for almost all of us. Practice the techniques presented in this essay and you can gain this skill. Remember networking is like life; it is a marathon not a sprint. It will take some time.
- Dig Your well Before You’re Thirsty, Harvey Mackay, 1997, p. 60.
- Dig Your well Before You’re Thirsty, Harvey Mackay, 1997, Chapter 59.
In addition to Harvey Mackay, another excellent writer and expert on the art of networking is Susan RoAne. I highly recommend her books: How to Work a Room (A classic), The Secrets of Savvy Networking, and What do I Say Next?: Talking Your Way to Business and Social Success.