The hard thing about networking is that you have to dive-in without expecting anything in return.
(This article first appeared on the Hub Australia website, here.)
If you see every interaction as a transaction, you won’t last long. Instead, you need to walk into a room, or log onto LinkedIn, with the goal of giving.
This hit me hard when I first started going to conferences and reaching-out to influential folks. What value do I have to give? That’s why I’m networking!
But the people you want to meet are busy, and the more influential they are the likely busier they are. Now I’m sure they’re eager to help people, to lift a colleague a rung or two up the ladder, but they can’t respond to everyone who wants to ‘meet-for-a-coffee’.
Instead, they’ll reserve their valuable time for those that’ve made the most effort. They want to reward hard work, and I have a suspicion they’ll take a shining to people in which they see a little of themselves. They didn’t get to the top by taking short-cuts, so don’t expect them to help you dodge the hard work.
And here lies the key to networking, it only works when you both bring something to the table. You want your approach to be additive, not extractive.
It’s all about the circular economy, the same as impact investing, which is my field of research. I may be stretching the analogy, but sustainability, recycling and renewable energy all depend on balancing-out the give-and-take. Like a negotiation, if the other party doesn’t win then you don’t win.
Value: it’s a deliciously ambiguous term, it doesn’t offer much direction but it offers plenty of opportunity. Everybody has something they’re good at, everybody has something to offer, even if it’s just an opinion. Besides, you’re not a rookie straight out of uni.
The trick is being open enough to those you’re meeting that you can empathise with them, and adapt your skillset to offer value by becoming the solution to their problem.
Now that may sound like some sort of advanced Jedi-ninja-mind-trick, but really, it’s just a matter of listening.
If you shift your networking from handing out business cards, to listening-in to what other people are really saying, then your network is going to grow.
If you soak up people’s body language, if you read their blog posts, watch their videos, and then adapt your skills to become their solution—then I have no doubt your network will grow.
But will you get more business? Will you land a job? Will you be inundated with offers?
But that’s not the point. You’re networking, you’re not a salesperson and you’re not a billboard.
You’re a problem solver, and one thing I know for sure is that the world has far more problems than solutions, so if you’re good, someone will pay you, eventually.
John Treadgold is a communications consultant specialising in impact investing and sustainable economics, which is the subject of his podcast, Good Future, listen here.
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