Networking is like so many things in our lives – exercise, eating more fiber and less fat, quitting cigarettes, saving money, writing goals – that we know are not only good for us, but are the keys to success. We know because we’ve occasionally done them enough to see and feel results, but we didn’t keep up with it. Or we’ve seen our friends doing these things and enjoying great health. Or we’ve seen the news articles about the studies that prove these things are beneficial. We’ve even read the books by the experts and celebrities who clearly spell out these actions and habits as the reason for their wealth, health, and happiness.
We know all this, and we know that networking is a vital business development activity and an important life skill, so why don’t we do it? Because there are obstacles in the way of our success, some obvious and some so subtle that we don’t know they are there. Of the six major OBSTACLES to networking, nearly all of them are created inside our own minds. Therefore, it is simple (but perhaps not easy) to change our thinking and to remove them.
The six reasons why we don’t network are:
· Having no Purpose
· Not Knowing How
· No time
Are you holding onto false beliefs about networking that are mostly negative? You think it’s just schmoozing, or that it’s all about selling, or it’s only for outgoing people? Did you try it once and when you didn’t get results, or didn’t feel comfortable, you decided it wasn’t for you?
The basis of any of these fallacies is that you believe it doesn’t work or that it won’t work for you. This error in thinking that is very easy to disprove. Simply look at the millions of business people who are successful because of the relationships they built through networking. Read books by Dale Carnegie, Harvey Mackay, Andrea Nierenberg, and Keith Ferazzi to be convinced of the value and the principles of networking.
Do you dislike networking because you don’t feel like selling or being sold to? Do you avoid it because of other people and their poor networking skills? Have you had negative experiences that caused you to have misconceptions about networking?
If you avoid networking because you don’t like the way other people do it, you need to radically shift your thinking from annoyance and dislike of these people, to compassion and seeing an opportunity to help them change bad habits. And just like daily life outside of networking, we need to simply deal with those few who don’t have good skills and keep searching for the right people to build relationships with. If you’ve had negative experiences with networking, you need to research your organizations much more thoroughly. We don’t eat raw food for the rest of our life because we burned our hand on the stove once. Avoiding networking because of other people is cutting our noses off to spite our faces.
Having No Purpose
Do you see networking as an endless series of pointless cocktail parties full of vapid conversations? Is your contact database not growing or even shrinking as people move away? Do you only network when it’s time to change jobs or when business is slow?
If you do not have a strategy and a long-term outlook, you will network based on short-term need, such as losing a job. This can be very unsatisfying because desperation is unattractive. Experienced networkers will avoid your “help me now and I’ll forget you later” approach. Harvey Mackay calls it “digging your well before you are thirsty.” Your purpose in networking is to build a vibrant, growing, and responsive assortment of relationships you can count on, and who can count on you. The development of mutually beneficial relationships will make every conversation important and purposeful, there will be no more pointless chitchat. Instead, you’ll see each time you make contact or converse with someone as another vital but small contribution to the networking structure we are building
Not Knowing How
Do you feel okay with meeting people, but wonder what to do next? Or you are building your contacts, but don’t see results from it. Are you unsure what kind of conversation is appropriate if you’re not going to sell?
If you lack technique or are unsure how to take networking from the early stages of meeting someone to a deeper relationship that is going to create value for both parties, then you may create in your own mind the perception that networking doesn’t work. Or that it’s okay for other people who don’t have money for advertising, but that it’s not necessary for you.
Networking begins with basic social skills such as having conversations that are other-centered. We may feel comfortable in purely social settings like soccer games or birthday parties where we can talk about our children or the happy occasion, but we believe that business networking occasions should be all business. Remember that businesses are run by people, and those people have families, interests, and personal needs. Getting to know someone first is not only perfectly acceptable in the business world, but is the basis of building mutually beneficial relationships.
Once you’re comfortable with learning about people for themselves and not as a prospect or sales target, the next step in knowing how to advance the relationship. The most effective and easy way to do this is to give first. Send them information, an invitation or even a referral for business. They will gladly work with you in return.
We sometimes think that we should automatically know how to network just by virtue of being in business, but this is the one topic where there is a gaping hole in our education and training. Financial planning companies are notorious for bringing in their new associates, giving them detailed FINANCIAL training, no networking training, and then sending them out to network one of the most difficult industries there is. The range of skills that are needed in networking include conversation skills, the ability to perceive and fill other people’s needs, organization, and a clear process for creating a return on the investment of time. This range of techniques requires study and application, like any complex skill.
No Time to Network
Are you ready to network, but you find you just don’t have the time? Do you pencil in networking events, but then have too much work to do and can’t leave the office?
There are only two reasons you don’t have the time to network. Your life may truly be so complicated with jobs, second jobs, childcare, or elder care that you literally work 16-hour days every single day of the week. But, if you watch one single hour of mindless television a day, you are just making excuses to not network. You don’t lack the time; you just don’t want to make the time.
Any busy person who discovered a new passion or a fun new hobby has found that it is possible to find the time when you strongly want to do something. Suddenly, your schedule opens up, you find new efficiencies, or you are able to reprioritize. If you’re not able to do that with networking, revisit your beliefs and your purpose. The time will almost magically appear if you are clearly focused on the value of networking.
There are also ways to be much more efficient and effective with the time you spend networking. Instead of very general events with a random group of people, take time to research exactly whom you need to add to your network and target your networking time accordingly. A leads group is also a time-efficient way to network because it is focused on giving and receiving referrals. You may even want to create your own networking events and activities. This would be a larger investment of time, but the return is much greater when you are the organizer and host.
If you have a short-term perspective, you will feel that the time invested isn’t paying off. If you think you’re wasting time, you won’t spend it. But if it is a long-term project that will compound, it is much easier to find the time to invest. We so often have to deal with the urgent tasks that aren’t important, instead of networking, which is not urgent but very important.
Do you feel like you can’t be a good networking because you are an introvert? Or do feelings of shyness hold you back from networking? A majority of people in the population report feeling some shyness at different times. These feelings contribute to the misconception that only outgoing people are good at networking. Having no clear purpose and needing to work on our social skills can compound feelings of shyness, which are basically a lack of self-confidence. Preparation and planning can create confidence, which causes us to be successful which make us more confident.
There are also networking events that are better suited for a more introverted person. Large, non-agenda mixer meetings can be difficult for anyone if you are unfamiliar with the group. Use the buddy system and focus on smaller, more personal events to build your confidence.
Think carefully about your excuses for avoiding networking in relation to these six common obstacles. Nearly every one of them is founded in the way we think. Once we’ve removed these obstacles that come between ourselves and our goal of effective networking, our success is assured. Apply diligence to make sure you’re not allowing bad thinking habits and doubt to creep back in. From now on, it’s simply a matter of time and consistent effort.