Network like an introvert: Seven principles of real networking

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By Tim Klabunde

Special to the Canadian Design and Construction Report

I had finally learned what Real Networking was all about. It was not learning a bunch of sales techniques and showing up at a bunch of events that I didn’t want to attend. Instead, Real Networking is just about building great relationships. With this knowledge, I began my journey to rewrite the rules of networking as I understood them. What I ended up with through a series of mishaps, mistakes, and laughter were the seven principles of real networking.

Principle #1 – Consistency

There isn’t anything magical that happens the first time you meet someone who understands Real Networking. Most of the time, you’ll have a simple conversation, with hopefully a couple of laughs about something completely unrelated to business. You’ll walk away with an understanding of who the person is and how the two of you could work together. You see, networking isn’t about the first time that you meet; networking is all about what happens after you meet.

If you and I met, and the following day I helped you by sending you a lead for a new project that was perfect for you, you’d probably think I was a nice guy. If over the following week I helped you twice more by referring you to two of my clients that you were interested in working with, you’d probably send me a quick thank-you email. If over the next month I helped you 10 times, with leads, referrals, and information about relevant projects and clients, you’d start taking notice. If over the next two months I helped you in similar capacity 30 times, something amazing would happen. You would begin developing a strong desire to reciprocate the help that you had received. You would want to make certain that I was successful, even as I was focused on making you successful.

What most people miss is that simply helping someone once doesn’t get the job done. In the scenario above, the first time I helped you the innate response wasn’t to reciprocate; instead, it was simply thinking that I was a nice person. Even after three times, most people will only send a quick thank-you email.

Real Networking happens when we are consistent in applying ourselves to a small group of people called a Hotlist. We’ll discuss the Hotlist more in the next chapter, but for now the important thing to note is that you can’t consistently help everyone you ever meet. You simply don’t have that much time in the day to help even 100 people 30 times per month. Instead, great networkers learn to focus on a core group of people (a Hotlist) so that they can build consistency in their efforts, which is the first principle of networking.

Principle #2 – Be inclusive

Your Hotlist should be small; your network should be broad.

One thing I had to learn the hard way is that not everyone gets it. When I first began to explore what networking really means, I developed a list of people that I was going to help to succeed on a consistent basis. Six months later, I had replaced half of the people on that list for a variety of reasons. One person who stands out in my mind through that process was Rich. He was one of those people who truly appreciated my helping him succeed, and because he had the potential of hiring me directly, he was not only a potential referral source but also a potential client. It wasn’t long before he was calling me regularly, asking for information and introductions, even inviting me to his office to train his staff. The only thing he failed to do was to ever help me in return. I think what bothered me most was that I really liked (and still like) Rich; he just didn’t get it.

During this same time, I was trying out something else to see how it worked. It worked so well that it became the second principle of networking. Instead of focusing exclusively on my Hotlist, I began to be inclusive and help everyone I could.

Now, I knew I couldn’t help everyone 10 times per month, but I was fairly confident that I could help most people I met at least once. So I began helping everyone every day. It was a simple philosophy that was probably a bit altruistic, but the results were astounding. As I helped others, I noticed that my effort opened new doors to new opportunities. It established new relationships where none had previously existed. Most importantly, it established my reputation as someone who was just interested in helping others succeed. In less than half a year, my relationships were growing and changing in new ways that I never could have anticipated.

As those relationships grew, so did my frustration with Rich. I knew that he could help me, so I began trying to find out what I was doing wrong that kept him from reciprocating. After months of searching, I finally figured it out…not everyone gets it.

I was faced with a dilemma: what should I do with my one-way friendship with Rich? Every ounce of me wanted to drop him like a ton of bricks from a tall skyscraper, but I knew inside that wasn’t the right answer. That was when I realized that principle #2 was important to successful networking. By being inclusive and helping everyone I meet, it became easy for me to graciously release Rich from my Hotlist and continue to help him when I had time. It was also easy because through my efforts in reaching out to others I had meet Ken; a true friend who I knew would fill the void in my network.

What I learned is that helping everyone every day isn’t just a noble perspective on life; instead, it is a valuable approach that will help you to reach your long-term goals. And the best part is that you will get to reach those goals surrounded by friends and people who also want you to succeed.

Principle #3 – Be genuine

“What have you done for me lately?” I had just begun to figure out what Real Networking was all about and, if my friend’s facial expression was any indication, I still had a lot to learn. In the first chapter I shared with you briefly about the major mistake I made when I sat down with Ted and asked him this “relationship undermining” question. What unfolded, however, was much bigger than that. Ted was a great guy who worked in the same industry I did, so it didn’t take me very long to add him to my initial Hotlist.

Over the eight weeks leading up to our conversation, I had tried diligently to help Ted in any way that I could. The good news was that because we served similar client types, I had already been able to help him. I referred him to ten of my clients that needed his services. The bad news was that my inept networking ability had just shone through as I sat across the lunch table asking him what he had done for me. It didn’t take a psychologist to see that my comment had just undermined a growing relationship.

Most people have a handful of gauges that they use when they meet someone new. One gauge that people use tells them if the person they are talking to is being genuine or just trying to get something out of them. Several years ago, I had a siding contractor come to our home to give us a quote on some new siding. As the young man walked into our house, he quickly began talking about our dogs, kids, and photographs around the house. It didn’t take long to realize that he was just trying to connect with us on a personal level in an effort to increase his chances of selling us siding. We all have this “genuine” meter that tells us when someone is being a friend because they like us or if it is because they want something. In the case with Ted, I had just learned the third principle of networking: when you help someone, you need to do it because you truly want to help them, not because you want something in return. What I didn’t expect to learn during that same meeting with Ted was the fourth principle of networking: Make certain you are heard.

Principle #4 – Make certain you are heard

After I posed my question to Ted, I could see he had absolutely no clue what I was talking about. So I began to clarify my statement by recounting each of the clients and projects that I had referred to him. I was shocked to find out that, out of the ten, only six had ever called him. To make matters worse, only one of those six had mentioned my name. It turned out that my friend wasn’t failing me; instead, I failed to ensure he knew that I was helping him.

It is not difficult to ensure that you are being heard. Today when I make a referral, I usually email the contact information of the person I am referring, instead of just giving it over the phone. Simple enough, but the following steps ensure that my contact knows about the referral.

As soon as the referral is sent, I forward a copy of the email to the person I just referred. Now I have helped them to know the referral is coming, and I have ensured that they know I gave them a referral to begin with. Even if the person never reaches out to them, they will know that I am working to help them. I refer to this as “making certain you are heard.” Regardless of what happens with the referral, I can be confident that my friends know I was thinking about them and trying to help them be successful.

Principle #5 – Say “Thank You”

If you were to open my top left desk drawer, you would find two things in it, a bottle of wine and a bottle of champagne. Those two thank-you gifts have led to some of the largest contracts I have ever had the opportunity to bring in, a result that I believe is firmly rooted in the fact that we live in an overtly underappreciated society.

When speaking on the topic of networking, I often ask how many people in the room have received a thank-you note in the past three months, and the answer is almost always less than 5 per cent of the group. The only exception is when I ask the question just after Christmas, when about 40 per cent of the room will indicate that they have received a thank-you note. What that means is if you take the time to thank people, your gratitude will make you stand out from the crowd.

It is my practice to send a bottle of wine to say thanks when I am referred to a new client and the referral turns into a new project. In a similar light, I send a bottle of champagne when I land a new contract from someone with whom I have been networking. While using gifts, how you say thank you should be as individual and as unique as you are. I know many people who will take others out to lunch, send thank-you cards, or even give a gift certificate. It doesn’t really matter how you do it. The most important point is that you do it.

Principle #6 – Make certain your contact gets the credit

After several years of networking I was enjoying watching my relationships change and grow. Instead of simply connecting with my peers, I was beginning to build relationships with the upper-level management in many notable companies. It was an energizing turn of events that I had not expected, and one that I was unfortunately not prepared to handle.

I was truly excited. It is fairly easy to refer a new client to a friend, and often it is even easier to make an introduction, but this was one of those rare opportunities in which I was able to ensure that a friend on my Hotlist received a new project. You might think that I am a little crazy for being excited about landing a contract for someone else, but that is what Real Networking is all about; a sense of friendship and camaraderie that celebrates each other’s success.

As I was picking up the phone, a thought occurred to me. What if I called the company’s CEO instead? He and I had met several times and he was becoming a friend, and I knew this contract would be a good way to strengthen our relationship. So, abandoning two years of relationship building through networking, I called him instead of my contact. It was a good conversation, but I could immediately see that he was not nearly as enthusiastic as my contact would have been. Instead, it was as if I was just starting over in building the consistency principle we looked at first. Worse was that I took away any chance for my true friend to look great in front of the CEO of the company. I had undermined his efforts by going over him when it really counted.

I decided then and there that the only way to ensure success when networking was to make certain that my contacts received the credit, not me. What is amazing about this philosophy is that, by ensuring that they receive the credit, it almost always comes around as they provide you with the recognition publicly. That’s a much better position to be in than to simply tout your own successes.

Principle #7 – Remember the snowball theory of networking

I distinctly remember two things I enjoyed every winter during my childhood: sledding and watching Looney Tunes. In those old cartoons, there was always an episode in which someone would start a snowball rolling at the top of a hill. By the time it reached the bottom it would grow into a mammoth ball of snow. Of course, some unsuspecting character would inevitably get embedded into the snowball as it rolled over them and it would subsequently smash into an inanimate object near the bottom of the hill. So, as a youngling, I sought to replicate the experiment.

I vividly remember sitting at the top of a sled hill in Morgantown, West Virginia, packing the perfect starter ball, and of course one of my unsuspecting older brothers was at the bottom of the hill. As I gave it a little push I was a bit disappointed to see that it only rolled a couple of inches before coming to a stop. So I began to modify my approach by building the snowball a little bigger before I gave it its next push down the hill. Sure enough, a little bit more and the added weight carried it a little further. After several attempts, I had it! With a bit of up-front work, I could make a snowball big enough to grow on its own as it rolled all the way down the hill, although I never could get it large enough to squash one of my brothers.

Networking works the same way.  It takes effort and determination to build Real Networking relationships, but the result is incredible. As you grow your network, you will begin to build momentum without additional effort. I am regularly amazed at how my network has taken me to places that I never anticipated going as new doors and opportunities have opened before me. It isn’t that I am doing something special; it is just that there is power in relationships.  As you build your network, you’ll find that the same is true for you.

            Copyright 2012 by Tim Klabunde

 

 

 

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