Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tending the Fire

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."
~ Albert Schweitzer

In my last post, we talked about the similarities between networking and starting a fire and how, like fire, networking requires a lot of work before you get to sit back and enjoy the results. The similarities don't stop there.

What happens if you "sit back" for too long?

Eventually the fire burns up all its fuel and begins to go out. The heat that felt so good before, now barely warms you. You try to move closer eking out the last gasps from the glowing embers, but eventually it will go cold. If you notice, you can throw another log on and it roars back to life, but depending on how long you've waited, you might have to go back to kindling and small sticks before you can build it back to roaring health.

Same thing happens in networking, and, I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I've run into this myself lately.

You've built a great network and it begins to really pay off. The number of opportunities coming in keeps you busier than you can imagine. You don't mean to ignore your network, but you've got so much to do, you no longer have time to attend the events and groups you once did. You are sitting back (working hard) and "enjoying the warmth".

You might not notice for months, but if you don't "feed the fire", the jobs that used to be keeping you too busy are now drying up. If you catch it early enough, you can get back into your regular networking practice and the benefits will return in short order. If too much time has passed, you'll almost have to start over from scratch. You'll have to connect and reconnect with your network and live through the sometimes long dry period before your network begins to pay off again.

How do you avoid this? I'll admit that I'm still working on this one myself. The big thing seems to be to create a regular practice. Find ways to fit your networking into your schedule every day -- even if only for a few moments. Sending even one email on a consistent basis is better than leaving large gaps where no one hears from you at all.

Keep the fire burning, before it gets cold.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Starting the Fire

I'm constantly amazed at the number of relatively commonplace activities that mirror or point to important concepts of a good networking practice. Take campfires, for example.

A few times over the course of the summer, we'll have a little campfire in the backyard. The girls love it. We'll roast hot dogs, drink lemonade, and, of course, make s'mores. The center of the whole process, not surprisingly, is the fire.

What does that have to do with networking?

Well, just like networking, the fire requires a lot of effort at first -- effort which seemingly grants us little return on the investment. We've got to clear the fire pit, gather the wood, find kindling, build the fire, light the tinder, coax it and feed it and occasionally fan the little flames to encourage them to grow. Only then do we get a chance to sit back to enjoy the fruits of all this labor.

With networking we have to put in a lot of effort at first. We've got to find good venues for our networking, attend the events, meet new people, find those who we can help, meet for coffee, develop the relationship, and occasionally go out of our way to help those we've just met. Only after we've grown the network and served those around us, do we get a chance to sit back and enjoy the fruits of all this labor.

Those who don't understand this natural process tend to get frustrated that they aren't seeing the results they want from their networking. Of course, that's like getting frustrated that a stack of wood isn't giving off warmth. We've forgotten that we are the ones who have to provide the spark to get things going.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Waiting at the Airport

That is not my flight
I glanced at the information board over my gate. My flight time was now thirty minutes later than originally scheduled.

Mildly frustrating, but time to sit and think.

I can read a book. I can get some other activities done (like writing this post). I can even chat with the ticket agent, the baggage handler, and the TSA folks (it's a small airport). I know, even though there's a little delay now, sooner or later, my plane or another will arrive and I will be on my way back home.

Of course, if I discovered my flight was never going to come, I might be a lot more upset.

I think this is what causes a lot of frustration for new networkers. They attend the events. They go to coffee with their contacts. They might even ask for help. When the results don't appear when they expect them to (which usually means right away), they get upset and think that networking doesn't work.

The best thing to do is adopt the "waiting at the airport" mentality. Yes, the results aren't here right now, but -- assuming you keep pursuing your networking activities -- eventually the results will show up. In the meantime, read a book, get some work done, and make connections with those around you.

It's only a delay.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Caring and Compassion

"Good luck out there."

The words were right, but as I walked away, something didn't feel right about the exchange.

For the past couple of days I've been staying at a casino where I helped present a program on networking and business development. I needed to change a twenty so I had tip money for the return trip and was directed to talk with the cashier on the casino floor. There was nothing unusual about our exchange, really. All the words she used were the ones you would use when talking with any other human being, but for some reason there was something missing.

There was no connection.

I thought about that for a bit. I mean, I usually have no trouble connecting with folks no matter how fleeting the contact. Mostly it just takes a smile and a "Hello" to get people to warm up. This one, though, didn't respond. Then it hit me. Whether it was the nature of her job or just her personal proclivities, she felt no compassion for me as another human being. While her words were right, there was none of the human emotion behind them that makes it a genuine connection.

This is why I teach mindset before technique when it comes to networking. I can tell you how to approach a group, how to carry on a conversation, even how to ask for a referral, but if you don't first have a genuine caring and compassion for the people you meet, those techniques will sound hollow and, in the long run, even work against you.

In his seminal book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", Steven Covey admonishes to "Seek first to understand, then to be understood". The analog in networking would probably be something like: "Seek first to care, then to be cared for".

Beyond the techniques and tactics, remember that networking is first an foremost about caring and compassion. Focus there first and you won't need luck for great connections.

Photo by Maksim

Friday, March 20, 2015

Top 10 Reasons to Sell at the Networking Event

Repeat after me: Networking is not sales.

Of all the mistakes people make in their networking practice (consciously or unconsciously), this one is probably the biggest. You see it all the time -- people running around handing out cards, passing out brochures, and trying to "always be closing". There must be a reason for it, right? So, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, here are the top 10 reasons you should be selling at the networking event.
  1. The panicky expression people have when you look their way. It's funny how the people you approach always seem to know where the emergency exits are.
  2. Their eyes like donuts -- glazed. It's nice how they just give up after a while, isn't it?
  3. All the glory of door-too-door sales, without the pesky success. Door-to-door isn't hard enough. You want the challenge of doing it with twenty other salespeople in tow and every house you approach is throwing a party.
  4. Rejection, rejection, rejection. Relive your junior high school dance glory years!
  5. Your reputation as a "user" needs a little polish. Too many people think you might value them as a person? Care only about how they can benefit you. That should lock in your reputation.
  6. Those aren't people. They're prospects. Because everyone loves to be dehumanized.
  7. If you aren't having fun, no one else should either. Hey, this sales, er, networking is hard work. They shouldn't be expecting sunshine and rainbows out of you.
  8. When you run out of targets here, you can always join a new group. If you stop being successful here, there are always more groups who don't know your reputation yet.
  9. Your brochure is one that no one will throw away. It's not advertizing. It's educational. The people who left it on the table obviously just didn't take the time to read it.
  10. They don't know how much they need you. It's your duty to help people understand just how much pain they are in.
Yes, looking at this list, it's easy to see why people prefer selling to their fellow networking event attendees instead of developing an actual connection with them. I guess I'd better order another case of brochures!

Photo by Claude Covo-Farchi

Friday, March 6, 2015

Focusing the Out-Of-Control Networker

Completely under control
"Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus."
~ Alexander Graham Bell

Over the weekend, on a visit to Grandma Debby's house, we went on a sledding adventure. We donned our winter gear and headed to the local hill -- a real beaut with several rises and a couple of jumps. We had our two sleds in tow. One was a streamlined, molded number with footrests, runners, and even hand breaks. The other was a simple round pad with handholds along the side.

Depending on which sled you chose, you had a completely different ride. The first was fast. You would rocket down the hill going airborne over the jumps. It was easy to control and usually at the end we would hop off whooping with delight. The other sled was pretty much completely out of control. You never knew if you were going to make it to the bottom of the hill without spinning around three times and tumbling head over heels.

So what does this have to do with networking?

Most people network like the second sled. They have no real focus or direction. They often find themselves pointed in the wrong direction and occasionally crash spectacularly. Unlike sledding, though, where that kind of ride can be a lot of fun, in networking it can be a waste of precious time and money.

Any success they might achieve is pure serendipity.

The few master networkers out there are more like the first sled. They know where they are going and what they plan to achieve. They have the tools they need to accomplish those goals and they tend to do so fairly quickly.

Oh, and the goals they do achieve often leave them whooping with delight.

If you are feeling like your networking is spinning in all directions but the one you want, take a moment and ask yourself a few questions:
  • What are you trying to achieve with your networking?
  • Who can help you achieve it?
  • Where can you go to meet those people (or those who can connect you)?
Half of successful networking is simply focusing your activities to align with your ultimate goals. Do that and you'll be rocketing down the hillside in no time -- and having a lot more fun to boot.

Photo by Pixabay user hmschl

Friday, February 27, 2015

Practice Your Networking Weaknesses

Gee, do you think he
practiced that?
"I've always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practice and preparation."
~ Will Smith

At the end of our advanced Karate class last night, the instructor had us all sit down in our best seated splits. Looking around at the other students -- all in their early teens -- he commented that this was a weak area for them. He then pointed out that the "old guy" (me) had a lot more flexibility than they did. The reason? Because I practiced it.

Of course, these young students had the advantage of me in other areas. Most of them can do way more pushups than I can -- because that's what they practice.

To be a well-rounded martial artist, though, we all need to be aware of our weak areas and pay at least enough attention to them in order to prevent them from limiting us. We need to practice.

The same thing happens in networking.

Some people love attending the networking event. They can strike up a conversation with anyone. Where they are weak is in the follow-up. All of ther relationships are only five minutes deep. Others are great at the one-to-one interactions, but throw them in a room of strangers and they retreat to the corner of the room and wait for the whole thing to be over.

Just as in the martial arts, we need to be aware of our weaknesses and practice them at least enough that they won't limit us.

Here are a few of the skills you'll need as a real networker. How would you grade yourself on each one? For those that are low grades, how could you practice?
  • Choosing appropriate events
  • Showing up at appropriate events
  • Starting a conversation
  • Continuing a conversation
  • Gracefully ending a conversation
  • Following up with potential connections
  • Developing long-term professional relationships
  • Maintaining long-term professional relationships
  • Passing referrals
  • Asking for referrals

Remember, no one is a natural at this. We each have our strengths and weaknesses. So how does your report card stack up? Where might you focus some attention to bring your networking practice up to the next level?

And when are you going to start?

Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Eriseyes