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.”
Too often, we think of networking in terms of handing out and receiving business cards. But it is more than that. It’s about cultivating a productive relationship and the immaterial value of building lifelong connections. Networking is not about buying or selling but BUILDING. Imagine your life as floating in a large body of water. Would you rather surround yourself with experienced swimmers who have the skills you either need to acquire or perfect in order to reach the shore, or would you rather be surrounded by individuals who could pull you down? If you want to succeed in business, or in your faith, you need to surround yourself with people who can help move you ahead.
Take a moment think back to when your company or boss sent you to a conference. You’re all packed ready to roll. You’ve arrived and are now seated, ready to absorb the speaker’s information, digest it and apply it in your own work environment to produce results.
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, most people attend conferences to acquire more knowledge.
Embracing a “Networking Mindset”
Networking is both a mindset and skill-set building platform. It’s a place to ask questions and learn as much as you can while you are in their presence. I was recently on a conference call with the business leaders and speakers John Maxwell and Ivan Misner, who were discussing the benefits of networking. John shared that a “networking mindset” allows for asking questions that unlock the door.
When you have a “networking mindset” the attention shifts from you to the people around you. It is a mindset that positions you as a colleague rather than a potential competitor. The environment becomes conducive for healthy dialogue and 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.
For example, you might be at a conference or event where you engage in a conversation with a fellow attendee. You might ask them about where they work and certain challenges they might be facing in their departments. How they are go about addressing challenges that you might face, such as training across multiple generations.
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, “I want to invest more time in getting to know you, your processes, your successful habits and your expertise.”
Furthermore, this exchange has now provided you with both access and opportunity to build a productive relationship.
The Importance of Follow-Up
Follow-up is very important to a successful networking experience. Best practice for networking follow up is the 24-7-30 rule. Simply, this means that within 24 hours of your encounter, you should 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. But think critically about how you approach networking in your future interactions. Networking – it’s all about people. Not the product or service, but the value you can gain by investing in building productive relationships.
About Gloria Strauthers, REH, Gloria is both President of Georgia Coastal Chapter and Principle of Exodus Management and Consulting, LLC. Exodus provides consultative services and solutions to organizations designed to promote effective, fair, and professional relationships between both the organization and its employee groups. Exodus offers highly configured solutions in the areas of Employee Relations and Cleaning Management and provides both training and program implementation. Gloria has worked in the fields of administration, management, healthcare, facility and multi-family management, and higher education for a combined twenty plus years. Gloria holds professional memberships and/or certifications in the following organizations: International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA), Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), National Association of Professional Women (NAPW), Cleaning Management Institute (CMI), International Facility Management Association (IFMA), International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and Gamma Phi Delta Sorority, Incorporated. To schedule a speaking engagement or consultation, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.