Rethinking networking

May 07, 2023

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Successful networking is all about helping others, not just leveraging relationships for personal gain.

Some of my most successful days networking are spent sitting at my desk. I don’t attend any association events, no lunches, and I don’t spend a single minute on LinkedIn. To succeed at networking I work my computer and make phone calls with the sole purpose of helping other people. I make introductions, forward project leads, pass along information, and laugh with friends about my kids’ most recent escapades.

If you ask most people what networking is, you will often get the traditional answer about leveraging relationships to get work. The problem is that this definition seems to indicate that networking is about you, while successful networking isn’t about you – it’s about helping others.

It’s time to take a new approach when networking. I often use someone I’ll call John as an example when speaking about networking because of his success in motivating me to do everything in my power to help him. John’s strategy was simple: He always provided me with leads, regularly sent me pertinent information, and opened new doors for me by introducing me to other people. Because he was working so hard for me, I wanted to work just as hard for him. The moment I would get a new lead, I would be on the phone with John desperately trying to reciprocate his unending help.

Now imagine that you were John, and you were taking this same approach with just 10 key relationships. Your network would be providing you with more leads and opportunities than you would be able to handle. What a far cry from the stacks of business cards that some business development professionals bring back to the office as a sort of trophy to show their success and to validate their salary. John knew that real success was found in just helping others.

To succeed at networking, we need to embrace association events, trade shows, and lunches as the tools that infuse new relationships into our network, not as the sole point of networking. Networking events are the place where we first learn enough about someone and their business to know how we can help them, and they provide us the opportunity to walk away with some way to follow up – that is, some way that we can help them.

True networking is the relationship building that regularly happens in between the events that we have incorrectly assumed to be the center of networking. Everyone says that following up is key, yet so few actually do it! Think of the last 10 times you traded business cards with someone. Of those 10, how many people did you follow up with and how many just ended up in a stack of business cards on your desk?

The next time you head out to network, remember what you are really there to do. It is time to rethink how you perceive networking. No more collecting business cards, giving a sales/elevator pitch on your company, or thinking about who in the room can get you the next job. Instead, start by focusing on building meaningful relationships with others. When you walk up to someone, think to yourself, “How can I help this person?” When you learn how to focus on helping others, that’s when the real networking begins. 

Tim Klabunde, FSMPS, CPSM is a principal at Timmons Group. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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