I am a big believer in active networking. By that I am not referring to attending endless mixers and random networking events, but identifying groups and events that have a direct and positive impact on me and my personal and professional growth, connecting with the right individuals within those groups, and following up with the individuals that I connect with.
I have been an active member of YPO for many years. On its Web site YPO states, “Connecting to the right people, information and ideas has always been important. In today’s complex, competitive and interconnected world, it is absolutely essential. Great business leaders know their networks make the difference. The network that matters most is YPO.” That explains it all.
There is always a universal need to connect with like-minded peers. So the question is not whether networking is important and essential. Rather, how to do it effectively, efficiently, and with impact.
People generally prefer to network with those with whom they have something in common. Whether it is the same political mindset, career development goals, industry focus, or personal interests, there is a link with which a connection is made.
First, you need to decide who are the people you need to network with. Take into account where you are with your career, which city you live and work in, and your financial position. Although this may seem simple, more often than not people waste a lot of time in events and organization for which they do not care and have no impact whatsoever on their lives and careers.
Once you have decided you know who you would like to connect with, you have to find out where and with whom they hang out, and the organizations, charities, and events they attend. At this point, you need to leverage your Alma matter, charity boards, business associations and organizations, and current connections to begin building relationships.
As you begin attending those specific events and functions, you need to have a plan as to who you would like to meet, what you have in common, and an action item that will give you a reason for the follow up. Although it may seem random and social, you need to have specific goals in mind when you attend events, and take the follow up very seriously.
Then, gradually, with time, begin becoming part of those networking groups and organizations. This is easier said than done, as you need to add value to the cause, and be a producer and not just a consumer.
Another important point is that it seems difficult for many to go up to a stranger in an event and simply introduce themselves. Just remember, that discomfort is shared, and that most people actually enjoy meeting new people. So go forward and say hello.
Also, always follow up with the organizers of the event to say thank you. It is amazing to me how people omit to do that. Good manners are the social fabric of our society.
Sometimes it seems impossible to find the groups you would like to network with. That is an opportunity to actually start something new. Depending on the demographics of the group you are targeting, you could organize a dinner, mixer, poker game, or any other function that may be of interest to the group. It is often a good idea to do this in conjunction with one or two other like-minded people to share costs, pool contacts, and extend reach. This allows you to directly target the people you have in mind. And if you execute well, with time people with actively try to become part of the group.
As our careers grow, the who becomes more and more important than the how. As we need access to decision makers, understanding of market trends, and referrals for the best people, we need to be well connected, respected, and trusted. It takes time, effort, and resources. But it is key to long term success.