Its not what you know – it’s who you know!
I received some profound business advice today, from a business professional who operates in a different field to me. I was on the wrong track because it was an area that I did not know enough about. He basically said, I am offering this advice to you as a friend and colleague and I really appreciated his perspective. The subtle message Victor – trust the practitioner in his field! It reminded me that you never live long enough to know and discover everything yourself – it is far smarter to collaborate with others and share their wisdom!
Growing your professional network is fundamental to your job enrichment, your career and your own personal satisfaction and development. Throughout my own career, covering several different professions, I have been very fortunate to work for leaders who saw value in connecting and benchmarking with others outside my own work sphere. These mentors encouraged and actively supported me to network to gain new ideas and approaches, particularly in my younger and greener days where this was a new and somewhat different concept for me. Having a senior person open the door to other companies and contacts was invaluable both to me and the organisations that I was working for.
For me, the most effective form of networking is face to face meetings, where you can build and maintain personal rapport with others. Making this happen is not easy, but like any process it takes hard work, time, planning, perseverance and a little courage. Joining appropriate networking groups, professional associations and attending conferences, is one of the best ways to be able to meet people face to face and explore opportunities. There will always be someone who has a different perspective, a bright idea and may stimulate and challenge your thinking. I regularly catch up with my contacts for coffee and to check what’s happening with them and the business world in general. I am always surprised as to how much information and new contacts I gain out of every business meeting.
The key to an effective face to face meeting is to ask the other person some leading questions, actively listen and show genuine interest:
- How are you going?
- What are you working on?
- What are your current challenges?
- How do you feel?
- Is there any help you would like?
- Who else would you wish to talk with?
Hopefully the other person will ask you similar questions and then this will lead to some interesting and fruitful conversations. In many cases people are looking for some sort of emotional support and empathy and not necessarily a particular solution. Just being a sounding board can be really appreciated. Another great conversation starter is to ask about personal hobbies and interests. My record response to this was a very informative 3 hour description of how lean is being applied to greyhound breeding and management! I find that the more you give, the more interest you show – the more you receive!
So my 6 easy tips to expand your professional network are:
- Ensure that you have an up to date business card, carry them with you and always exchange them.
- Use LinkedIn and be proactive. Join with everyone your meet. Respond to articles and do post about your own activities. A relevant photo will always gain maximum attention. I usually start my day with 5 to 10 minutes on LinkedIn.
- Keep a regular list of key contacts as a separate data base.
- Regularly maintain contact with them – phone call, email, linkedIn and face to face.
- Join networking groups and professional associations and be a regular participant – you need to put yourself out there.
- Ask your contacts who else they can introduce you to.
Let me know how you go with these tips and any recent successes that you have had?
I recently connected with one of my former leaders from 30 years ago and now I am going to a company reunion with 40 other professionals!
The best of luck and enjoy your networking.
National Facilitator Australia & New Zealand
Best Practice Network