The following is a guest post by Seth Fargher from www.SethFargher.com. Having been in a business for over 10 years, I can attest to the power of networking. It's amazing what one small connection can lead to. What makes that even more exciting is that you never know who or when that connection may come.
Business Networking Tips 101: Three Imperatives to Creating Valuable, Working Relationships
One Contact can Make All the Difference
About nine months ago I was let go from a job I loved where I felt, and everyone around me agreed, that I was doing a great job at.
It came as a shock to me and several of my co-workers but sometimes things just happen.
I worked for an off-road products company which was somewhat of a dream come true for me personally but also gave me an opportunity to build relationships with some of the biggest names and organizations in that industry.
Doing my best to take it in stride, I sat down with my Rolodex (seriously, does anyone even use those anymore?) and began reaching out to specific people within my network of industry related contacts. Because I’ve also worked as a freelance journalist over the last four years, I've been fortunate to meet a wide variety of people within my industry.
To my surprise, I had a job offer the same night and another one within two days of being let go. Both from customers I had worked with at the previous job and both companies reached out to me after hearing that I had been let go.
I share that little story to illustrate the fact that your network is your net worth. In this day and age who you know, and who they know, is more important than ever. Whether you’re looking for a job, trying to tap into a new niche market or even trying to get acquainted with someone of greater influence, who you know and what they think/feel about you (your credibility) is more important than ever.
Now let me say up front I’m not at all advocating using people to get what you want. I believe in creating mutually beneficial relationships where everyone wins and you earn peoples trust so they are willing and even excited to refer you on to other clients, customers and resources.
At the mention of “networking” I fear that most people envision after hours meet and greets where overdressed people put on a fake smile and try to solicit business. Doing business is certainly the goal but the purpose of networking is much, much more than simply trying to sell.
What’s more, networking is so much more than just attending chamber functions and sticking your business card in people’s face.
When I share with people about networking I try to illustrate three imperatives to help them extend their territory and build significant relationships in their particular field.
1| Show Up
In today’s electronically connected world showing up doesn’t have to mean being physically present. Through social media and the blogosphere, we have instant access to some of the greatest influencers in almost any industry. By commenting on blogs, Re-tweeting and interacting on Facebook, you are in essence getting your name and brand out there in front of hundreds or thousands of people with the same interest. What’s more, you might just attract the attention of the influencer, the person you were following to begin with. Bloggers love people who interact and share their content around the Internet. We call those people raving fans.
I recently left a comment on the blog of a popular leadership and work ethic speaker. To my amazement, later that day I received a personal email from him telling me thanks for my comment and that he checked out my website and loved what I was about. He actually took the time to visit my site and send me a personal message. We’re not best friends or anything, but at least he’s opened the lines of communication and will likely know who I am if/when I reach out in the future. All because I simply “showed up” online by commenting on his blog.
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That’s not to say you should stop being physically present. By all means, attend events, seminars and expos that revolve around your industry and network with the people there.
Whether online or in person, make a presence in the places where people with similar interests tend to gravitate.
Showing your “face” will begin to familiarize others with who you are and help you increase your visibility to people with the same interests.
2| Just Ask
The answer is always no if you don’t ask. This one goes without saying but I’m amazed at the opportunities I would have otherwise missed out on if I hadn’t simply reached out and introduced myself or asked for an opportunity. Prior to attending my first off-road Expo in hopes of finding a job, I shot an email to the editor of my favorite magazine…just for kicks.
I explained I would be in attendance at the show and that I was looking for an opportunity to work within the industry, how better than to work for a magazine right?
To my continued disbelief, he responded, set up a meeting with his publisher and opened a door that has lead to some amazing experiences as well as allowed me to contribute to nearly every media organization in my particular industry. All because a little voice in my head said,
“You won’t know if you don’t ask.”
3| Build Credibility
One of my personal goals has been to contribute to ESPN.com. I tired for a year to convince the editor that I was a capable, able writer and video editor, but for all he knew, I was just some kid with a camera who liked motorcycles.
Following the 2010 X-Games, a friend of mine and who is also well recognized in that industry won a medal and asked me to help him edit a short video about his experience. When it was finished I sent the clip to the editor at ESPN.com to see if perhaps this one would win him over. He loved it and immediately gave me a few more opportunities to produce content for their action sports blog.
While my skills in writing and video editing hadn't changed, what I had previously lacked was credibility. As you can imagine, ESPN has every right to be picky with who they work with and the editor wanted to know that I’m actually a legit insider with ties to some of the top names.
My friend was the credibility link that opened the door. I actually did that as a favor to him and didn't make any money on it, but the opportunity that it created was much more profitable in the long run. Just because you’re not getting paid doesn’t mean you’re working for free. (Another post for another time)
It’s important that you establish credibility in your field so that when you reach out to someone, particularly someone of influence, that you illustrate why you are a good source or what they stand to gain.
If you have a significant contact or platform that they stand to gain from, your offer will be all the more attractive. I’m not saying parade around name dropping like it’s your business, but use your previous work and contacts that they might recognize to demonstrate that you are significantly connected and can create value for them when reaching out for new opportunities.
Networking is a constant and ever changing game but it is an imperative skill to possess in today’s highly competitive work environment. You never know who might be impressed with your charisma, work ethic or willingness to put yourself out there and in turn, elevate your career to new heights.
Just ask any of the platinum selling artists that were “discovered” in a small club or on YouTube. Like my customer who called and offered me a job the day I was let go, your relationships, your network and that one contact, can make all the difference.
Photo credit by Sara Frantzman