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The Truth About Networking

By Reg Pirie |


If you are a highly successful corporate employee or entrepreneur, you may not want to read this article. Chances are, you already know the truth about networking and at best the following pages will only be a refresher.

But, if you need to improve your networking skills or if you want your employees to better understand why they should become active networkers, read on.

Networking! What's the first thing that pops into your mind when someone mentions the word networking? For many of us who have experienced corporate downsizing or restructuring, networking immediately invokes images of job searching.

Indeed, most will grudgingly agree that networking is an integral part of a career transition but will then quickly add, "If I'm not looking for work, or if I'm not in Sales & Marketing, I don't have to worry about networking." Others, particularly entrepreneurs, have a different viewpoint and they are apt to say things like:

  • "Networking is the key to business and personal success!"
  • "Learn how to network - you and your company will prosper!"
Sound familiar? But how does networking apply in everyday business life? Why should we even worry about networking?

In reality, networking is a critical factor if you want to make your work easier while achieving personal success. Unfortunately, the concept of networking is often misunderstood. Personally I think networking has been made too complicated by today's management and consulting gurus. So let's see if we can simplify matters. I'd like to share with you some of my experiences and observations concerning networking.

Dispelling the Myths

Let's start by clearing up some myths.

  • To be an effective networker you do not have to be a witty extrovert who can charm potential and existing clients with scintillating conversation over a fancy lunch at the trendiest restaurant in town.
  • Similarly you don't have to be the fast-talking super-salesperson who can seemingly conjure up a deal with one phone call.
  • Networking is not something you do simply when you are considering a career change.Networking is not measured by the number of business cards you collect in one year.

Understanding the Principles and Purposes of Networking

Why do business people network? Why should you network? Effective networkers have long-term goals in mind and those goals are quite straight forward. They could include any or all of the following:

  • Increasing company profitability, efficiency or effectiveness
  • Improving customer service
  • Achieving business and personal targets
  • Preparing for future personal advancement
But do you want to know the number one reason why people network? Do you want to know why some individuals expend the extra time and energy to become truly great networkers? The answer is simple. Those of us who embrace networking as part of our lives are lazy! Or as I like to say, "We are long-term lazy." We network so we can eventually get our jobs done more easily and more effectively.

Networking is based on some very uncomplicated principles. Three common sense philosophies underpin the concept of networking and they can be summed up as follows:

  • relationship building i.e. personally connecting with others
  • relationship maintenance i.e. timely reconnecting and communicating
  • information sharing i.e. adding value to the relationship
Initially, networking is based on establishing relationships with a wide variety of people who might eventually be able to aid you, directly or indirectly, in achieving your goals. To do our jobs more effectively we all need assistance from others. Don't forget, as you move forward with your own agenda you also have a responsibility to pro-actively support those who form part of your network. Networking is a reciprocal arrangement.

With those thoughts in mind, here are a couple of definitions to consider. Actually, these are really not definitions, they might more appropriately be called credos:

  • Networking is about sharing ideas, without the expectation of receiving something in return. Everyone should ultimately benefit.
Networking is not a process, networking is a state of mind!

Where Do I Start?

That question is constantly posed to me and the answer is directly linked to why we network. Take a moment to FOCUS and perhaps the best way to do that is by asking yourself the following questions. "What would make my job easier?" or "How can I better support my own goals and/or the goals of my employer?" Reflect on some of the following answers and see if you might have similar responses:

"My job would be easier if I could…
  • achieve better internal co-operation with other departments."
  • find suppliers who have excellent service standards and competitive prices."
  • be more "in the loop" relative to leading edge technology."
  • quickly source highly qualified employees.
  • gain easier access to key decision makers."
What you wish to accomplish will vary with the demands and responsibilities of your position. But what's the common denominator? INFORMATION! And where does information ultimately come from? No, not the Internet! Not the media! Information is supplied by people.

Do you see where I am headed with this? Networking is all about establishing and cultivating ongoing relationships with people. People who can help you and people who can be helped by you.

Do you want to know how the professionals develop their networks? Go through this simple two-step exercise. By the way, even if you have never seen yourself as a networker, most of us already have a network, we just haven't been taking advantage of it.

Step 1. Begin with the people who are already known to you. Just for the fun of it, fire up your computer or grab a blank piece of paper and in a half hour list as many people as you can think of. If possible record your connection with the person and where they work or what they do. Now put the list aside and we'll come back to it.

Step 2. Remember my comments about getting focused and the question I posed, "What would make my job easier?" Expand your thinking and jot down certain key areas where you wish you had better contacts. Think about various sectors where knowing people and having better access to information would prove to be beneficial.

At this point I suppose you could pull out the phone book or other business directories and begin the laborious task of trying to figure out who to contact. Indeed, in some cases you might have to do just that. But wait! Go back to that list of people you know.

For sake of argument, let's say your "Step 1" list included your personal lawyer - the person you only call if you are buying a house or if you need to change your will. A novice networker might look at the lawyer's name and say, "Why network with my lawyer, I'm not trying to make any inroads into the legal profession." But the accomplished networker would look at the same name and say, "This is a person I need to reconnect with - he or she must have a wealth of contacts." Remember, "Networking is not a process, networking is a state of mind." The real pros constantly look at where new or renewed relationships might lead.

At this stage, don't make any assumptions as to whether or not the people you already know can ultimately assist you in advancing your endeavours. Ask yourself this two-part question. "When did I last communicate with the person and do they know exactly what I am attempting to accomplish in my business life?" If you don't have an exact response for part one or if you can't answer "yes" to part two, you need to re-think your approach to networking. And don't forget about the need to network internally within your own organization.

Internal Networking

Before going any further, let me make a few observations about internal networking. Some will say, "Why bother networking with other employees - we're all supposed to be working for the same organization. Why waste the time?"

Think about it for a minute. How often have you said or thought, "I can't get anything accomplished around here. The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing! There's no co-operation. My job would be so much easier if"

Granted, internal networking can be a little less formal but the basic principles are the same. As we move through the balance of this material, consider how the techniques we are going to review could be applied to internal situations. Once you buy into the concept that networking is about sharing information and helping others, you will come to appreciate the extreme importance of developing a pro-active internal networking strategy.

Is Networking Different for the "Selling Side" of the Workforce?

It is important to underscore the fact that this article is aimed at networking in general. For individuals involved in disciplines such as: Marketing, Sales, Fundraising or Business Development, your efforts to network will be heightened to the ultimate degree. Not only will you want to develop and expand your network but you will want to be in a position to secure funding or to ultimately sell a product or service.

However, it is critical to remember that the basics are still the same. You still need to establish and cultivate personal contacts so that decision makers will have you uppermost in their minds when the time comes to offer donations, or to make a purchase or to secure the services offered by you or your employer.

Networking - The Written Introduction

So, you're all ready to start networking. You have established a list of people you want to contact. Some you know, others you may not know as well and still others are total strangers. But what's next? Do you simply pick up the phone and try to set up some initial networking meetings?

Unless you are an extraordinary communicator, the above approach is doomed to fail and you'll rapidly become discouraged about the entire networking concept. All of a sudden, the thing which was supposed to make your life easier will become a totally exasperating experience.

Fear not. Do what the professional networkers do - first communicate with potential contacts in writing. That's right, the old-fashioned letter or perhaps an email. Let's take a moment to look at the benefits of launching your networking program by using correspondence.

Ease - With a little imagination on your part introductory letters can be created with relative ease. While I am not an advocate of "pro-forma" letters, you will soon discover that they generally follow the same format.

Professionalism - The written form of communication will invariably set you apart from others. Some say writing is a dead or dying art form and unfortunately, those critics may be correct. That said, well-crafted correspondence will open doors for you, because quality letters / emails are an exception rather than the norm.

Paving the way for phone calls and meetings - Letters or emails are important for another reason - most of us are uncomfortable making cold calls. It is always much easier to reference a recent letter / email rather than simply launching into a dialog intended to secure a networking meeting. The recipient of your letter / email will be more receptive if they have a clear understanding about why you are getting in touch with them.

In today's hectic business world we all must learn to be concise. As such, it is important to remember 3 key elements when preparing correspondence:

  1. Linkage - The opening sentence informs or reacquaints the reader concerning the background circumstances which have caused you to communicate with them. It could be as simple as writing something like:

    • "It's been several years since we attended college together"
    • "As you might recall, we served on the Delegate Committee for the State Human Resources Symposium last year"
    • "We haven't met before but our mutual associate, Fred Rogers, suggested I contact you regarding "
    • "We haven't met but I was most interested in a recent news item where you were interviewed about"

  2. Purpose - The second paragraph of the letter is intended to clearly, concisely and honestly explain why you want to initiate a face-to-face dialog with the recipient of your message. If you are too vague you run the risk of the reader becoming unnecessarily wary about your intentions.

    Here's an example of a good "purpose" paragraph. In this case the writer is an HR professional and he is communicating with Ms. Pat Goodall. He doesn't personally know Pat but they have a mutual acquaintance, Fred Rogers. Pat is an HR Director at a computer company. Paragraph two might look something like this:

    "I am in charge of recruiting at the Greenview Hospital and we are gearing up for major changes next year, including a modest expansion of our computer support department. Recently Ted Rogers and I were talking about the challenges of recruiting technical personnel and he mentioned some of the unique strategies you had implemented at Onyx Computers. I'd like to arrange to meet with you for a half hour as I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss your expert approach to this type of specialized hiring."
    Now here is an important reality of human nature to remember. The vast majority of us are more than willing to share information, particularly if we are being sought out because we are viewed as an authority on a certain topic or topics. I'm not suggesting you have to get gushy about this but take the time to acknowledge the recipient's credentials or expert status.

  3. Closing - The last paragraph, while very short, needs to accomplish three things. Acknowledge the recipient is busy - such a statement helps to reaffirm you won't overstay your welcome during the actual networking meeting. Don't tie yourself down to an exact date and time for your follow-up phone call but indicate a timeframe. Lastly, use a friendly signoff. Here's a sample:

    "Pat, I realize your time is very limited but I will give you a call during the week of April 2nd in an effort to schedule a mutually convenient meeting. I look forward to speaking with you in the near future."
    Now for those of you who still think grabbing the phone and making calls to unknown networking prospects is the best course of action, stop and reflect on the merits of writing a letter first. Letter writing is by no means a guarantee you will connect when you call or that you will ultimately secure a networking meeting. But, when you make your follow-up call, the chances of a positive response will be significantly enhanced by your introductory correspondence.

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