If you are looking to access a job, venture capital or clients – the opportunity is in your network. A survey suggests nearly 85% of all jobs are filled via networking, as reported by Inc.
Networking may not be on the “favorite things to do” list. It is often awkward and time consuming. You may half-heartedly attend a networking event and checked the box, only to wonder why you were passed over for opportunity and overlooked.
Relationship capital can increase your odds of success. It can elevate the exposure of your personal brand and multiply the advocacy of others. Most importantly it can get you into circles of influence that otherwise might be closed.
It’s time to take the mystery out of networking and re-think the way we connect and build relationships. Here are a few reasons why networking might not be working for you and how to turn your connections into golden opportunities.
1. Focus your intention – Stop collecting business cards. I recently heard someone bragging about handing out more than 500 business cards. Networking isn’t a game of numbers it is an exchange of value. Define your networking intention and expected outcomes up front. Identify three screening questions that you can use to determine if there is a meaningful connection. By clarifying your purpose, you can target the right connections. Once you have secured the contact work on building a connection. Create a targeted list and follow-up with your contacts with timely, relevant messages that bring value.
2. Expand your circle – Too often we look for the opportunities to come from those closest – those that may have the same background and experience. If you are looking to expand your value and influence you must step out of your comfort zone into different circles. Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, during the summer of his senior year in college, interned at Odea, a podcast startup created by Evan Williams, who would go on to co-found Twitter. One of the people working full-time while he was interning was Jack Dorsey, another co-founder of Twitter who became a key connection to the tech world. Proximity can open doors. Step back and assess where you want to go. If your current network can get you there great. If not, take the risk, step out of your comfort zone and build new relationships to get you there.
3. Define your brand – Do you know your authentic personal brand? This is not defined as the number of friends or followers in social media. It is also not defined by the level of exposure you have in promoting your goods or services. Premium personal branding clarifies your purpose and position in the marketplace linked to solving a true need. If you can differentiate you can dominate. You will always be in demand. Take time to define your personal brand mission statement. Identify five partners, relationships and opportunities that will help solidify your mission statement in a unique and profitable way. This will not only elevate your network but also your personal brand.
4. Build value-driven relationships – The greatest attribute anyone can ascribe to your brand is trust. Building trust comes from an equal exchange of value. Sometimes we don’t realize the value of a relationship until we need it. People who understand the value of relationships nurture those relationships with consistency – before there is a need. Take time to call, connect, send notes of gratitude or thoughtful gestures to people who matter in your network. Building this goodwill demonstrates a sincere interest in the value of the relationship. When you ask for a favor in return, they will be more than willing to help.
5. Give before you receive – In my book, Brand Me, I call it the “G2 Principle” (give to get). There is nothing worse than someone who wants to get but has nothing to give. When you become known for bringing value, delivering excellence and solving a problem – you are valuable. Before you start asking – start thinking about what you can uniquely contribute to support the goals of your contact. Offer to give your value before asking for anything in return. Building this relationship equity will serve you now and in the future.