Networking for Success
Last week I attended a great talk on networking given by one of our graduates. He is a consummate networker and has built an extraordinary collection of contacts across the globe and in fields as diverse as high finance and elementary education. I don’t think I know of anyone who has been more successful in creating a true web of connections.
During his talk he offered his suggestions on how entrepreneurs can use the power of networking to help build their businesses, identify new opportunities, and create awareness in the marketplace. I thought that his ideas were useful not only for budding entrepreneurs, but for anyone interested in enhancing his or her career and creating wonderful life opportunities. So, based on some of his concepts, here are some of my own thoughts on how to build a network and leverage its power.
- Effective networking takes time. This is not something you can do periodically or perhaps for an hour every other week. Thinking about relationships and building connections is something you need to be doing all the time. In many cases great networking opportunities arise when you least expect them – you need to be ready to capitalize on them when you get the chance.
- The most powerful network is a diverse network. Diversity in functions, backgrounds, industries, etc. will lead to the most interesting ideas and spark new and creative approaches and opportunities. If your network consists of only people just like you, it’s likely that you all think pretty much the same way – fewer new ideas are likely to arise.
- Focus on bridging your network. As a corollary to number 2, one of your goals should be to become a bridge between the various “nodes” of your network. Research by Chicago Booth Professor Ron Burt shows that those who act as bridges (or “brokers”) across networks have greater access to information, foster more innovative ideas, and have greater career success. They are often the first to learn of new concepts and are in a position to manage the flow of information between groups – putting them in a position of relative power.
- Volunteer and get involved. Many of the most interesting networking opportunities happen outside the regular work environment. This may be through charitable organizations, social clubs, school activities or the like. You’ll meet a variety of people, typically from other industries or fields altogether. Some of the more creative and unusual connections are likely to result.
- School is a great place to start. Whether you are in secondary school, university, or in a post graduate program, school is an outstanding way to begin your network. You’ll be surrounded by many like-minded individuals, all of whom are looking to make new friendships and connections. (In our MBA and Executive MBA programs, we emphasize the power of the network from day one). Take advantage of this opportunity – it’s probably the easiest networking you’ll ever do.
- Be open to new ideas. The more curious you are, the more powerful your network can become. Great ideas have a habit of appearing in unusual places. If you focus your network on only those industries, people or events that are familiar to you, you’ll miss out on the possibility of creating connections and new ideas that no one else has thought of. So, be open to the artist, the small business owner, the teacher or anyone else who seems interesting to you.
- Networking is reciprocal. When beginning a conversation with a new contact, of course you want to find out what they do and how they might help you, but networking is all about give and take – not simply about finding out what they can do for you. One of your first questions to any new contact should be “how can I help you?” If you become known as someone who is helpful and has useful connections you’ll find that your network will not only expand, but you will find more and more people willing to help you.
- Don’t expect immediate results. Building your network will take time, and it may also take some time before the network produces results. You can’t expect to see impact immediately and shouldn’t be discouraged if it takes longer then you expected. An effective network is a web of relationships, not just contacts. Building and leveraging those relationships takes time, trust and commitment.
Your network can be a powerful tool for a wide variety of purposes – enhancing your career, launching or funding a new business, generating creative new ideas, or simply providing great opportunities to learn more about the people and the world around you. Take advantage of the many opportunities you have to build relationships – at work, school, on the bus, or through volunteer or social activities. Make networking a priority and you’ll reap the benefits many times over.