Building a strong and diverse network of trusted individuals takes a lot of effort and time. It only makes sense to use that network once it has been created, however that can sometimes be the most challenging part. I often hear people say they feel guilty asking for help or favors from members of their network. They do not want to seem like a salesperson or someone who is selfish. As Daniel Pink points out in his fantastic book “To Sell is Human” there are not very many complimentary adjectives associated with sales. They range from “pushy” to “slimy” to my personal favorite, “yuck.” He goes on to point out that while the majority of the population does not necessary like sales many tend to participate in “non-sales selling.” In fact Pink (2012) found that “people are now spending about 40 percent of their time at work engaged in non-sales selling – persuading, influencing, and convincing others in ways that do not involve anyone making a purchase” (p. 21). The point is most of us are already salespeople; we just do not like to admit it. Working with and using a network of trusted people should never be looked upon as a bad thing; as long as it is done right.
Here are my three tips to taking the next step with an established network. They come from years of experience building a great network and getting things done, both professionally and personally, through that network. They will probably seem like common sense as they are being read but it does not make them any less valuable.
Make your desires/dreams/goals known – People generally want to help where they can especially if it involves a friend or trusted acquaintance. However, they cannot help if they do not know what to be looking for. I decided to start working on a speaker career a few months back. I sent out a message through LinkedIn and Facebook asking for advice on connecting with local area speakers. I immediately received feedback and met with two individuals the following week. They were kind enough to share their stories and their experiences from when they first started speaking. They also both gave the same biggest piece of advice; tell everyone you know that you are interested in speaking. People can only help if they know what you are looking for. I took that advice and ran with it. By the end of the month I had lined up my first five speaking gigs all because I told people I wanted to start. No one I reached out to over those couple of weeks felt used or sold to. They simply wanted to help me achieve my goal.
Always be willing to help – Jodi Glickman wrote a great blog post entitled “Confessions of a Networking Pro.” In the article she described attending an event that she did not particularly want to go to. We have all had those moments entering a room and not being in the mood for small talk or idle chitchat. She overcame it by “being generous.” She goes on to explain that instead of walking around the room trying to find business for herself, she asked how she could help others. The night immediately changed as she engaged and actively listened to dozens of professionals each with their own unique story and needs. By the end of the night she had helped numerous people with their business while expanding her own reach. Networking seems to have a certain karma to it. Helping others just for the sake of helping them has its own rewards. People also tend to remember those that made a difference in their life and will be more than happy to return the favor should the occasion ever arise.
Which brings me to my final point: Be genuine – This could easily be the most important tip to follow because without it the other two will never happen. It sounds easy and yet it can be so hard. Being genuine is not about trying to do someone a favor in hopes of being paid back. It is doing the favor because it is the right thing to do. It is building a long-term, trusted relationship with multiple individuals from a variety of backgrounds and caring for each person like they were a relative. We all have distractions in our lives that can take our attention and our time. There are countless networking events I have attended where I catch myself looking at my watch or smartphone in the middle of a conversation or looking over my shoulder to see who else has recently arrived. It is in those moments that I have to remind myself that I need to be present with the person I am currently engaged with. Forget the distractions and really listen to what they are telling me and who they are. That is how trust is built so when it comes time to ask a favor or request advice they will be more than happy to help.
Networking really can help take a dream and turn it into a reality when it is done right. Be genuine in every conversation, do not be afraid to tell others what you want to do, and always be willing to help others succeed. Follow these steps and take your network to the next level.
Pink, D.H. (2012) To Sell is Human. New York, NY: Riverhead Books
Jodi Glickman. (2012, December 10). Confession of a Networking Pro. (Web log comment). Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/12/confessions-of-a-networking-pr/