I am embarking on a six-part blog series on effective networking. I will share stories, tips, mistakes, and insights that will hopefully get you thinking differently about networking. I believe that networking is not merely an event or activity, but a strategy for a successful life. Networking can help you advance your career (and that of others), grow your business (and that of others), and change the world for the good (and that can affect others in very big and lasting ways!).
The key to effective networking is to practice what I call “relationship-based networking.” This approach produces deeper, longer lasting connections that produce more results. It is the opposite approach to “transactional-based networking” – when people try to sell you something at the first meeting, and when you don’t buy, they blow you off and look for the next warm bodied prospect.
Practicing “relationship-based networking” requires patience, faith, curiosity, and generosity. You must suspend your urge to “do the deal” or “make the sale” or “land the job” and replace that feeling with a desire to get to know people and to be of service to them. By doing so, you will be building relationship equity over time. And in time, this relationship may yield value beyond your wildest dreams.
How can you make that happen?
You start by practicing the 6 core principles of relationship-based networking.
Core Principle #1 – Lend and borrow your social capital often
Let’s start with what social capital is and how it works. Wikipedia has a nice explanation of social capital:
“Social capital is a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central; transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust, and cooperation; and market agents produce goods and services not mainly for themselves, but for a common good. The term generally refers to (a) resources, and the value of these resources, both tangible (public spaces, private property) and intangible (actors, human capital, people), (b) the relationships among these resources, and (c) the impact that these relationships have on the resources involved in each relationship, and on larger groups. It is generally seen as a form of capital that produces public goods for a common good.” Read more>
I think of social capital like money (or financial capital). If you hoard it and keep it to yourself and never risk it or invest it, your money doesn’t grow, it stays stagnant (actually its value decreases, similar to your buying power being reduced due to inflation). But if you risk some of it by investing in the stock market, or other investment vehicles, your net worth can grow quite nicely over time. The same is true with your social capital. If you lend and borrow your social capital, you will leverage its value. Your social net worth and social value can grow. Of course, you need to do that wisely.
Examples of this principle in practice
Here are a few examples of how I loaned and borrowed social capital as part of my networking practice. Note: the names of individuals and organizations have been masked to protect their privacy.
LEND: A good friend contacted me to see if I would speak again at her annual fundraiser for her nonprofit organization. Unfortunately, I was already booked on the date, but I vowed to help think of someone who might make a good successor. I discussed it with my husband who had been at the event the previous year with me. I reached out to another philanthropist friend to pick her brain about speakers we could suggest. Then someone from my client network came to mind. This individual was not a professional speaker, but rather a graduate of one of my two-day executive presentation skills classes. I admired her for her tremendous energy, passion, and stature. Through a series of phone calls floating the “match” with both parties, I was able to make the connection. This “networking experiment” is still in motion, but I hold high hopes that this will work out wonderfully. Net impact: My nonprofit friend gets a fabulous speaker for her event who can help her raise tons of money for their upcoming service projects; and my client gets to expand her speaking experience by being featured as a platform keynote speaker. I am delighted with the potential return on investment from this social capital exchange!
BORROW: I featured a client’s story with her permission in my newest book, Networking Ahead 3rd Edition. I sent her a signed copy of the book with my thanks. She then sent me an email to tell me that she had a good friend who lived in my new town in South Carolina. She offered to introduce us. Interestingly, this new connection used to live in the same town in Connecticut that I did, and he works in the banking industry – a sector that I serve in my business of talent development and skills training. She fulfilled her offer to connect us with a nice email introduction. I acted on her introduction with both an email reply and a LinkedIn invitation. We now have a date on the calendar to get together for coffee. My network in my new community is expanding!
LEND: I got an incredible referral from a client to do a speaking engagement in South America. I was crushed to see my calendar already had a booking on that date. I was unavailable. But I offered to help find and recommend alternative speakers who could meet the client’s event needs. After a few phone calls and emails, I reached one of my dear friends whom I roomed with at national speaker’s conventions in the past. She was so excited about this opportunity. I sensed it came at a very good time in her business. I trust that she will do an outstanding job for my client. I also know that my client feels grateful to me for helping her in a pinch. You earn networking points even when you give the business opportunity away.
LEND and BORROW: I got a message on LinkedIn from a professional associate whom I had met in networking some eight years ago. I had helped her during the forming and storming of her consultancy practice. She never forgot that, but I was surprised and delighted to get her LinkedIn inquiry asking if I was available to do presentation coaching for one of her core clients. She did the most amazing networking introduction by email and within a day I was speaking with a high level executive at a company that I didn’t have on my radar screen. Because of the referral I was already positioned well as a trusted and qualified resource to do the executive coaching assignment. Upon hearing more about the specific needs of the coaching assignment, I thought of another colleague who might make a good fit and should be considered. While I was definitely interested in this assignment, I know how important it is to have a “good fit” between coach and coachee. So I confidently offered to make the introduction to my strategic friend who also does executive coaching. This allowed me to get back in touch with her and invest in our relationship to keep it alive and growing. Whoever wins this assignment will be happy; but I will be happy knowing that my social capital has been strengthened and that I have helped other people be successful.
How can you leverage your social capital to grow the value of your network?
It’s easier to do than you think. But it does require a shift in your mindset from “scarcity” (there’s not enough to go around, so I better take all that I can) to “abundance” (there is plenty to go around and opportunity grows with networking activity that generates positive Karma). It also helps if you can shift from a “competitive approach” to a “collaborative approach.” It’s never all about you. You will have more and greater opportunities if you make it all about “us.” Networking is how we leverage the “us” opportunties.
If you have comments or stories of your own to share, please do so on the Facebook page for my book, Networking Ahead– https://www.facebook.com/NetworkingAhead/
Share this blog post on your LinkedIn feed– be sure to add your two cents about how networking has impacted your career, business, and life.
Check back next week when I share my next blog on Core Principle#2:
Be Visible, Valuable and Available.