Merriam-Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines networking “as the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” Networking has become synonymous with the distribution of business cards. But networking is more than just that. It’s about the cultivation of productive relationship and the immaterial value of building life-long connections. Networking is not about buying or selling, but rather building. You surround yourself in a wave of waters surrounded by experienced swimmers who have the skills you either need to acquire or need to perfect. While in those waters, you are simply riding the waves of “expertise” until you’ve reached the shore or your desired destination in life, in business or in your Faith.
Take a moment think back when your company or boss sent you to a conference. You’re all packed ready to roll. You’ve arrived and now seated and ready to absorb the speaker’s topics and how you can conceptualize those topics to produce results in your own work group. When packing, did you wonder “I’d better stop by the ATM and get enough money to buy something while I’m networking, or better yet did you wonder “Boy, I’d better pack enough of our company’s product to sell while I’m at the conference.” No, of course not, you attend conferences to acquire more knowledge.
Networking is both a mind and skill set building platform. It’s a place to ask questions; a forum to learn about another individual or company. On a recent conference call with John Maxwell and Ivan Misner, John shared that a networking mindset allows for asking questions that unlock the door; which shifts the attention from you to them. With such a mindset, you become less of a competitor and more of a colleague. The environment then becomes conducive for questions to be asked. You can gain knowledge about the other person and measure it against something you haven’t done or don’t know. In doing so, you place them on the pedestal and not yourself. The exchange of business cards is the “icing on the cake”, it says John Doe or Jane Doe, I want to invest more time in getting to know you, your processes, your successful habits, your expertise. Furthermore, this exchange has now provided you with both access and opportunity to build a productive relationship.
Follow up is very important to a successful networking experience. Best practice for networking follow-up is the 24-7-30 rule. Which simply states this, within 24 hours of your encounter, follow up with a thank you note via handwritten or email. Next, within 7 days, reach out via social media and re-connect. Finally, the last step is within 30 days set an appointment. This appointment should not be used as a sales forum, but rather a relationship building one. This serves to solidify future access to those with the expertise you seek to build upon.
So, go into your desk drawer and or Rolodex. If you have business cards of individuals you have yet to contact, you might want to discard those; as they are now missed bridges to opportunities you have just passed over. Networking – it’s all about people not the product or service, but the value you can gain by investing in building productive relationships.