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Professional Networking: An Introduction

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You're most probably doing it everyday & still find you don't get a lot of responses when following-up. That's why the first step is especially important when networking - here's what to look out for!

Networking. A word that had a bad reputation for so long.

And there is a reason for that. In order to network like a pro, you need to combine principles from so many areas; first contacts, traction, networking vehicles, timing, body language, rapport creation, memorability, common value creation, contact management tools and methodologies, systematic follow up and the list goes on. But what most people do? Give their business card, put on a fake smile, write a cold email (if they ever follow-up) and send their proposal.

In a series of articles that will be published here, I would like to show my views on how to build up strong professional networks, create lifelong connections and utilize your network to build up a great career. In the end, all I would like you to remember, and I will put my best to succeed doing so, is that:

Nowadays, creating strong connections with multi-billionaires while still being a student, building new businesses with your customers because of a personal approach even when you are not strongly differentiated from your competitors, getting the promotion you deserve while no one else does and succeeding in many other career and personal goals is simple. The only reason that doesn’t happen is because people are not willing to repeat simple, daily, small steps.

I will show you the small steps I used, and hopefully, this way I will help you build your dreams and grow your business. I will go through the 6 stages of successful networking:

  1. Identification
  2. First Contact
  3. Connection
  4. Memorability
  5. Organizing
  6. Following-Up

In each stage, I will go through some tips on how to practice and improve. Also, I will give some simple examples to showcase the kind of thinking that networking demands.

Taking The First Step

Let’s start with a small introduction. Networking has evolved so much the last years. The reasons are many but I will focus on two:

  • the speed with which the information changes and
  • the modification of contact barriers.

Information changes rapidly. Twenty years ago, when your company had received a specific information, it was registered as classified and hidden from everybody else. Nowadays, hiding information is usually ineffective. Why? Internet. We are all connected. What you found out today is only a matter of time till someone else finds out tomorrow. The result? Information loses value when you keep it for yourself. Today, it is a lot more valuable to be the person that shares information. This makes you an expert. This makes you the person that other professionals look up to for advice.

Lesson #1

If you want to build a network, you need to build a reputation as an
expert and that involves channeling information.

Now, let’s look on the contact barriers. I would like you to take a minute and try to figure out the answer to the question: Which could be the two barriers that block people to create a connection with another person? Seriously, stop reading, take a moment and think.

There could be a thousand different answers to that question. I will focus, as usual, to the simple ones. The first barrier is to be actually able to communicate with that person. Imagine you would like to talk with the CEO of a huge corporation. How do you even get in distance of two meters from him/her in order to talk to them? Or, how do you find their email to contact them with that very important CV of yours? Now, imagine you managed to sneak your way in, and you had the chance to talk with him. How do you manage to get into his head and convince him that you are different than the majority of the people that just occupy his time without giving him any value? These are the two barriers: getting in front of your desired contact and getting into his mind.

Understanding how networking has changed over the last 5-10 years has to do a lot with understanding how the barriers have changed. Ten years before, it was really difficult to manage to get in contact with this great CEO. Sometimes, it was even difficult to find out who that CEO was. Nowadays, all the information is a couple of clicks away. And then, sending an email and/or inmail is as easy as ever. The first barrier of getting in front of the person has fallen. It is easy. People are not expecting you to be something different because you managed to get to them.

The opposite has happened to the second barrier. You might send that email, but no one responds. You might have approached the CEO through LinkedIn, but he never opened your message. You gave your business card and no one ever came back to you. The reason is again simple. Internet has made connections easy, so people have increased their internal barriers, in order to screen out potentially non-valuable individuals.

Understanding how to work around this change of barriers is crucial in order to understand how to create the connections we want. But till we get to that point, try to visualize the height of these barriers in your everyday interactions. For example:

  • Talking with your spouse: practically no first barrier, hopefully no second
  • Talking with the a potential investor: probably low first barrier and high second barrier
  • Talking with the president of the United States: high first barrier and high second barrier

Play around in your mind. Understanding which barrier is high can give you the strategy on how to deal with this potential contact. When you start thinking like that, it becomes second nature.

Lesson #2

Understanding which the barriers are is the first step
to find out what your approach strategy should be.

In the next article I will be a lot more practical. We will discuss some aspects of the first three stages: Identification, First contact and Connection. We will see how the two reasons that networking has changed created an endless list of ways to approach people. We will understand why answering the question “What can I offer you, that costs me nothing (or just a little) to help you a lot?” is the starting point of any professional networker. Furthermore, we will find how to use the answers to that question in order to choose in which seat of an airplane we should sit.

Moreover, we will go through the three main topics that you should connect with any of your contacts, independently of the outcome you are searching for. We will understand how a small modification of when you ask a question in a business conference can put you in contact with the main speaker that everyone else wants to talk to and how you can become different than the others showing that you understand the value of time.

This article is the first one of a series of articles on professional networking, make sure to also read part two – first contact & the creation of a connection!

 

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