The Art of Effective Networking
By Donna Messer.
What is networking? Is it gathering information, selling products or services or is it making friends? For years, the word has been circulated as one of the most important “topics” at conferences and trade shows. When you network you get work is the quote we often see. There are “experts” everywhere, each one selling their particular brand of networking. There are those who sell the rules, others who sell the products, and there are others who just walk the talk.
After years of networking, I have finally discovered what the word really means to me, and to the people I interact with. It’s an art! I compare networking to an artist’s pallet, the colours are there to work with, and the choice is ours how we blend and apply that colour to our own particular piece of art. For me, I creatively use three basic colours to develop and build my database.
While networking is an art, everything I do surrounding that art, seems to have a cycle. Once the cycle has begun, I follow the same strategic plan each time to complete that cycle from beginning to end. It amazed me when I really did my analysis, to recognize that the process was so simple and so easy to replicate.
I have determined that what the word networking really means is a three-fold answer. We network for rapport, for information, and for results.
When I enter into a networking cycle, I always begin with rapport building. There is absolutely no point in networking until you find out what you have in common with the other person. In all of my workshops, I try to instil in my audience that people like people who are like themselves. Unless we find that common interest, we can’t move forward in the cycle of networking. Once we have found our shared interest, we can move forward to the next step in the networking cycle. The first colour I use in the Art of effective networking is the colour Orange. Orange for me signifies the first step in the networking process. At this stage we listen, we hear what the other person has to say, we think about whom we know and we put them first. We share our resources; we create a bond between us. The cycle – we meet, we build the rapport, we find our common interest, and we forward in the relationship.
The next step in the evolution of networking is to gather information, to cement the relationship so that there is an ongoing benefit for both parties. In the beginning, one person must take the lead and determine how the process will move forward. By asking the right questions, you can determine what you have in common and how you can build on that common interest. I often introduce myself with not only my name, but also a little information that will evoke a similar response. An example – “Hi, my name is Donna Messer- I’m a broadcast journalist.” The reply is often,” Nice to meet you, I’m John Smith, I’m an electrical engineer.” A good question – gets a good reply that will help you expand on your Art. Networking is a process; success doesn’t happen immediately. Once the rapport has been built, we need to begin the process of gathering information – on the company, the person, and the industry. If I want that new contact to become a permanent part of my database, I need to know as much as possible about them and their interests. This is called Social Capital – statistics show that the more we know about a person, the easier it is to bond and become friends and business associates.
The information cycle is the second colour in our pallet and I use Red, when brushing up on this very important piece of the networking canvas. During this part of the process, I become very kinaesthetic; I search for ways to learn more. I use the Internet and often visit Web sites, associations and organizations that may have relevancy when it comes to taking my relationship further with my new contact. I write down what I learn, and I add the information to my database as a reference point for the future. When I am in the information cycle, I am constantly searching for lateral ways to add value to my new contact. Each time I find another gem of information, or a resource of value, I often send it to my new contact, with a note to remind them of our meeting and of our initial rapport.
The next step in the Art of effective networking is to make sure that there is a next step – a positive result from the initial meeting. During this cycle in the process, I am looking for ways to not only cement the relationship for the future, but also to make sure there is a future. Often when we first meet, there is nothing really discussed between the two parties other than surface talk. When I go into solution or result mode, I am looking for ways to add value to my new connection. I want to supply a referral, provide a lead, or even buy a product or service from them and I want them to be comfortable in reciprocating. This is what I call the result cycle, and it is the third and final colour on my pallet, I use Green, when I want to provide solutions.
Networking is a series of cycles, we build the rapport, we gather the information, and we process the results of what we find. The final step is using the information for the benefit of both sides of the introduction. It isn’t about buying or selling from each other, it is about our common interests, our comfort in providing referrals, sharing resources and the opportunity to keep in touch in the future. I keep in touch with my network on a regular basis. I use a monthly newsletter, that doesn’t sell anything; it shares information and resources.
The Art of effective networking is something anyone can learn. First, you build the rapport with colour Orange. Next, you gather information about the best way to build that relationship between you and the other person with the colour Red. Finally, you take what you’ve learned, and offer solutions, resources or contacts with the colour Green.
The colour theory has been developed by experts over the years. I have merely adapted their work to reflect the Art of networking. We have been offering a program called Link and Think, where we have used the three colours to determine our communication style, and it has only been recently that we have taken the colour theory another step. For details on Link and Think, visit our Web site – http://www.connectuscanada.com/linkthink.htm.
If you want to become an artist and utilize your talents, simply recognize that to be a successful and effective networker, you must build the rapport, make the most of the information you gather, and find ways to generate positive results.
To bring The Art of Effective Networking to your organization visit ConnectUs Communications Canada.
Donna Messer is an author, speaker and trainer for ConnectUs Canada Communications. She founded the company on the premise that everyone can learn to network and get work; they just need to find their own communication style. Donna has appeared on Global TV, has been featured in The Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun, The Globe & Mail and The London Telegraph. Her book, “Effective Networking Strategies” is a Canadian best seller. During her career, she has connected with more than 7,000 women’s organizations around the world and has an active database of more than 25,000.