27 December, 2018

How to master 2 essential skills of networking

How to master 2 essential skills of networking

When I was in the army, my network was my fellow soldiers and officers. It was an easy network because it was organised for me. That’s why army’s are successful. Everyone follows the hierarchy, it’s a transparent network that everyone can see and everyone knows their place in it.

When I transitioned from the army into business - everything changed.

Business networking wasn’t as transparent. Even when I absorbed all of the information I could on it, I found myself constantly questioning whether I was doing it right. Mainly because there were so many cliques and inner circles within the business community, I didn’t know how to break through. There didn’t seem to be any information that was written from an outsider's perspective.

So today I’m breaking down how you should approach networking in plain terms - typical army style!

Who should you be networking with?

Don’t make the mistake of treating networking like a hierarchy. Yes, decision makers and people who wield influence will be useful but remember that everyone thinks that way - those people are often bombarded and are very good at picking and choosing how much energy they put towards things.

I’ll talk more about this later, but often the most valuable people in your network are those who have the right skills, right advice and right introductions at the right times. Not necessarily the decision makers.

What’s the power of it all?

As your relationship builds with people, you’ll find valuable hives of information - insights, trends, resources - as well as people who will vouch for you, inspire you and encourage you.

These people will be your business community and they are essential in order for you and your business to really thrive.

So, how do you know who to approach and how do you get there?

I’ve got two main pieces of advice here:

  1. Be genuinely curious
  2. Be reciprocal

Curiosity is one of your greatest tools as a leader

Jeff Bezos, Sheryl Sandberg, Stephen Hawking, and basically every great leading mind you can think of, is curious. Curiosity came through in a 2015 PwC study, cited in the Harvard Business Review, where a number of the world’s most successful CEOs pointed to curiosity as one of the main traits that will denote success in a leader, especially in turbulent times.

But back to networking, we know that people respond positively to genuine curiosity (the key word here is genuine!) When you ask questions and have conversations with no hidden agenda, you make connections and find opportunities in an organic way.

You might think that you’re not trying to be the world’s greatest astrophysicist or owner of one of the biggest online marketplaces, but remember, Stephen Hawkings and Jeff Bezos aren’t being curious in your industry --- you are.

Failing to reciprocate is failing to network

As a business coach, this is probably one of the biggest mistakes I see. Reciprocity should sit across all relationships, but especially in networking where there is no formal obligation to one another.

You create this yourselves and how you do this is the key to establishing valuable business relationships and an excellent reputation in your community and beyond.

Reciprocity Question 1 - How can you help others?

This has to be your starting point because it’s often the area that doesn’t always occur to business people to do. Think beyond your business to your life as well. What are your skills and experience? What resources and information do you know well? Are you clued up on news and trends or more of a knowledge-based person? Who do you know? When you have a clear handle on these things, it’s much easier to connect dots and see opportunities for others in your network.

Reciprocity Question 2 - What do you need help with?

This question requires a deep level of introspection. It’s got a few different aspects to it. Business-wise, where is your business suffering the most? Do you know why? And you, as a leader - this is the tough one - what are you bad at? Or put more kindly, what areas could you do better in?

A recent example for me is when I engaged with voice coach, Sally Prosser. Sally was someone that came to me through my network, she was looking for help on developing her business. At the time, it was a side gig. But fast forward 12 months and now it is her full time work. Not only did I help Sally put a framework around her business at the start of the year, but by being curious in what she did, I learned a lot about the role our voice plays in projecting out confidence.

Sharing this with those in my network was essential and Sally has been an MC at an event of mine and also done an Art of Business Leadership talk with me. She has helped me to develop content for my audience!

I read somewhere to think of networking like a bank account - you need to deposit before you get interest. That give before you receive idea. I like that but it doesn’t quite cover the human dimension enough - and that’s what makes a great leader.

Networking in business goes beyond social transactions. When you follow the methodology of curiosity and reciprocity, you will find valuable connections in unexpected places. You’ll understand the world around you better and your role as a leader in it and you’ll grow a genuinely supportive business community - one that highly values what you contribute too!

My next blog on networking gets into the how-to. What does it really take to become incredibly well connected?

© 2019 Paul Mead