Networking is a skill like any other you learn for your business, but sadly, it’s generally not taught in school. Typically, it’s something people pick up as they go, and speaking from personal experience, unless you’ve been given good advice or examples, chances are that you’ll make mistakes along the way. Keep making them, and those mistakes can cost you opportunities if they aren’t corrected.
The benefits of networking is the first part of a series about networking. Over the five articles, you’ll learn what networking is and why you should do it; where to find events and opportunities to do it; how to prepare for it; what to do when you get there; and how to follow up to make your efforts worth it.
What is Networking?
The definition of networking isn’t really what people think it is in real use. Many people will tell you it’s showing up at an event, collecting a lot of business cards, talking about your business to anyone who will listen, and maybe making a pitch if they saw a “perfect in”.
Wikipedia defines it as “…a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures.” The first “definition” is just about the opposite of what you want to do, and the second one sounds pretty dry. But Wikipedia does touch on the real kernel of truth: relationships.
In practical use in the real world, it can be summed up like this:
- Networking is a long game that goes far beyond where you initially meet your connections. It’s not just about landing a job or finding your next employee. It’s something you should be doing your whole career, and it will help you build your career.
- In networking, it’s not about the quantity of introductions of yourself you make, but it’s the quality of the relationships you build (which will help you get quality introductions).
- Growth is key benefit in networking. This happens both personally and professionally by what you receive from others, but more importantly, what you generously give.
Top 7 Benefits of Networking to You and Your Business
1. Networking is an important factor in success.
Many people who are the most successful in business (maybe the ones that make it look so easy and seem to get all the breaks?), have tapped into a strong network of like-minded individuals that are helping them along the way. You can access that kind of help if you think of it as an investment by putting your time and energy into creating mutually helpful connections. Think of it as part of your career development.
First, you have to be visible in your community. You have to get out there and connect with people. It’s not called net-sitting. It’s not called net-eating. It’s called NETWORKING. You have to work at it. — Dr. Ivan Misner of BNI
2. Meet influential people.
They say “It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know.” I have one more thing to add to that. “It’s not just who you know, but who knows you.” And I don’t just mean getting an introduction and exchanging cards. That’s the tip of the iceberg, and it’s going to take some time to explore it all. Once you have made some connections, the doors can open to meet people many levels above you in business. As a result, meeting these influencers happen from mutual connections, and it’s a big benefit of networking.
3. Personal recommendations are a lot more likely.
There’s nothing like meeting face-to-face, time and again, to really get to know another person. It allows trust to build. Once someone knows you well, they are more likely to help you, perhaps by facilitating a meeting with a higher level person in a company that could direct business or a job your way. This can make all the difference if you’re job-hunting, want to make a career change, or starting a new business. Personal recommendations come with the trust you build in knowing someone well.
4. Make real friendships.
People that you meet at networking events, especially those that are in the same field, understand what other people in your life may not (for instance, what a company going public means, or the frustrations of client troubles). Once you get to know each other better, you can be each other’s sounding board, cheerleader, and support system. It’s the logical next step in forming a friendship, and continuing it could be lifelong. After all, you already have a lot in common!
Call it a clan. Call it a network. Call it a tribe. Call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. — Jane Howard
5. Allows you to help others.
You should approach networking with the mindset of “What can I offer?” rather than “What’s in it for me?”, otherwise you will limit your success. This is the chance for you to be as generous as you possibly can, because helping others is the way to not only pay it forward, but to make an impression that lasts. Forming a mentorship (whether you’re on the giving or receiving side) could be invaluable to your career development.
6. Opens new resources.
No one can know everything, but communicate regularly with enough people and you are more likely to tap into the latest news of what’s happening. People you meet in networking will have recommendations about things like business coaches, professional development opportunities, the best people to hire for a job or outsourcing, early information about job openings or shakeups in the industry, books to read, and workshops to attend… The list really can go on, but let’s leave it at knowing that there’s a wealth of information out there, and people will share it with you.
7. Boosts your self-esteem and self-confidence.
There are plenty of readers that will identify as introverts and convince themselves that that means they can’t meet people easily, therefore networking isn’t for them. Networking is for everyone in business. Regular attendance is important, so faces will become familiar over time. Remember, you’re there to be helpful. For instance, you’ll probably be asked for advice, because your opinion will matter. There will almost certainly be an opportunity to offer your skills and expertise because people are valued for what they bring. It may be out of your comfort zone, but that’s where the growth is.
You may be wondering…
…why I didn’t mention some other benefits that seem obvious, like getting new leads, making sales, hiring an employee, or booking a client. These are all things that can happen at networking events. Of course, the underlying agenda of everyone is to grow their business, but I argue that the deeper nature of business networking is building each other up as we build our careers. In improving ourselves and helping others do the same, the rest will follow. And we won’t have to do it on our own.
Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity. — H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
To sum up, this and the upcoming articles about networking are written in the hopes of saving others from making the same mistakes I’ve made. For instance, I absolutely know that I’ve missed opportunities to create real connections with people who could have helped me greatly, and all because I didn’t understand how to use networking the right way. I know it’s never too late to develop new skills, so if you’re up for it, follow along. Up next in the series – How to Prepare for Successful Networking. Get it right in your inbox, along with all the upcoming articles. (scroll down to subscribe)
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