Networking…an ugly 10 letter word. Or at least most people think so.
“Can’t wait to head out to my next networking event!” said no one ever.
Yet, networking is one of the most effective forms of organic marketing, any marketing really. So why are we loathe to get out our sharpies and fill in our Hello My Name is …..lapel tags?
Or, maybe that’s just me because I’m an introvert. So if you are an extrovert, and networking isn’t a struggle for you, then maybe this particular article is not for you.
Might I suggest one of these articles instead:
And now, for the rest of us.
Networking is one of the most undervalued, under-rated and under-utilized marketing strategies probably because 1) the ick factor and number 2) sometimes it can feel like… what’s the point?
But you’ll only feel that way if you are doing it wrong.
What is networking?
That’s Google’s definition. And it sounds fairly spot on.
I think when most people think of networking, they think of those cheesy functions, with shrimp kabobs and cocktail napkins, shaking hands and exchanging business cards…at least prior to COVID.
And even now that we’ve come to embrace virtual networking through social media and other online platforms, the idea of networking still feels plastic. There is this sense of “Me,Me,Me and then, enough about Me…what do YOU think about me.”
That’s probably why most of us hate networking and why it has a bad reputation.
I like to look at networking in a slightly different way.
According to Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, we humans can categorize our social networks into the following groups.
Some researchers even suggest that the group of manageable contacts is closer to 200 for those of us who are good at networking.
And why does that number matter?
It’s fair to say that all things being equal, we are more likely to buy a box of girl guide cookies from the neighbour girl three doors down than we are from the team of cookie sellers stationed outside the Walmart in the next town over.
Just as, your neighbours and friends are also more likely to purchase their travel with you than some nondescript person working in the mall. That is, of course, assuming your neighbours and friends know you are a travel advisor.
I know so many travel advisors who never remind their friends what they do, assuming they know. But people can sometimes get so wrapped up in themselves that they forget.
Step One – Make meaningful connections
This is where the introverts of the world often make the best networkers. Because the art of great networking is to ask a lot of good questions and then sit back and listen.
Some extroverts are so uncomfortable with silence that they’ll fill up holes in the conversation with their own voice just to avoid the quiet. Not me, I’m happy to sit back and let whomever I am chatting with take centre stage.
The depth of your connection is positively correlated to the degree of knowledge you have about someone.
Step Two – Become a super-connector
Traditional networking ends after Step One. But becoming a super-connector is where the gold is. There are some people who are naturally great at this and I love watching them do their thing. Being a super-connector means you take your 150 to 200 manageable contacts and you begin to weave them together.
You can only really do this if you’ve asked enough questions and know your connections well.
It’s knowing that your friend Tom needs something that your friend Dick has, who purchased it from Harry. You aren’t even part of that equation other than you put it together.
Good networkers understand that their secret skill is in how they connect their contacts to each other.
You become the person that everyone wants to know because you make shit happen. It’s a beautiful thing.
A few housekeeping rules about being a super-connector before we get ahead of ourselves.
- When connecting two people, where one is helping the other, it’s always polite to give the helper a head’s up and ask permission first.
- Don’t be “that guy” who says he knows someone but then doesn’t follow through because he really doesn’t know anyone. Ugh…those are the worst.
- And by all means, if you say you are going to make the connection, make the connection… and as quickly as possible. (lest you forget)
The trick is to start networking when you need nothing. In fact, if you can start your networking journey with zero expectations other than to help bring value to others, you are ahead of the game.
This strategy has often been referred to as digging a well before you are thirsty.
The Strength of Weak Ties
In a seminal article written by Stanford University sociologist, Mark Granovetter, he suggests that there is great value in staying attached to associates even though your ties with them are nebulous at best. That’s precisely the crux of their value.
By now… all of your close friends and family members should know that you are a travel advisor. I would hope that when it comes to booking travel, you naturally float to the top of their mind. But it’s your weakest ties and their spider-like tendrils that give you connections in areas you would typically have no presence.
Example…I’m not a quilter. I know nothing about quilts. I don’t really like the feel or look of a quilt. I prefer those big fluffy goose-filled duvets. But I have a friend who loves quilting. We connected over our love of travel and we used to work together at a travel company many moons ago. I don’t know her super well. Every now and again I reach out via Facebook to see what’s she’s up to and where her next adventure is. We rarely talk about her latest cross-stitch. But we can shoot the shit about what’s the latest entry requirements into Sri Lanka or wherever.
But…she has introduced me to all of her quilting buddies. And one night, as the group met to finish off the latest patchwork art, someone was commenting how much they were looking forward to travelling but wanted some help. Well, guess who’s name came up?
If that sounds self-serving, it shouldn’t, because I am someone else’s weak tie too. It goes both ways. The key for me is to always pay that type of generosity forward. I may not have the opportunity to send my quilting friend new business…at least not yet, but I’ve connected many other people in a similar fashion.
A super-connecting action plan
Starting today, reach out. Put a plan in place. Make a list of all your connections, both close connections and those that are further removed. And then set up a system whereby you set aside a bit of time each day just to reach out and touch base. For no reason at all. That’s it.
I promise you one thing…it may seem like work, but you may be surprised by the reactions you get. We are all such similar creatures. We all just want to be heard and to belong. And the more you can provide that sense of security for someone else, you’ll notice that you’ll feel it yourself.
It can be uncomfortable and for that reason, I set aside an hour a day for just networking. You may not need an hour. However, by scheduling that time, it will get done.
Maybe you set yourself a goal to comment thoughtfully on ten people’s posts and you reach out to three. It may not seem like a lot. It isn’t. But over time…those numbers start to add up.
But won’t they think I’m schwarmy?
The biggest objection I get to networking is that most people hate the idea of coming across as salesy or insincere. They’ll say…But what if the person is suspicious of my intentions?
To that, I say, “so what? It sounds like more of a ‘them’ problem than a ‘you’ problem.”
They can be suspicious. But you keep showing up without outstretched hands and eventually, they’ll think…meh..she’s kind of cool shit. And if they don’t think that…who cares? Move along. You still have 7,917,440,196 more people to reach out to.
Finding the time
You may be thinking, but I just don’t know where I’ll find the time. But then I’d ask you, how much time do you spend passively trolling Facebook and other social media sites. I have no issue with any platform. They are called “social” media platforms because they are meant to be social.
All I am suggesting is, rather than scroll through countless posts, why not scroll less but go deeper. Leave a thoughtful positive comment. Send a direct message…and do so with zero expectation of anything in return.
If you want to dig deeper into the topic of networking, I found “Taking the ‘Work’ out of Networking,” by Karen Wickre a highly consumable read.
And if you are reading this…you can bet I’ll probably be reaching out to you shortly. 😉