Use Networking Skills to Open Doors

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Digital Library > Building and Inspiring an Organization > Networking "Use Networking Skills to Open Doors"

Every entrepreneur knows how valuable networking skills are. Are yours up to par? Take some time here to hone your style, and pick up more lasting, effective contacts.

OVERVIEW [top]Like a true entrepreneur, Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992 by amassing a vast network of contacts. "Friends of Bill" helped him raise money and recruit volunteers for the campaign. A master networker, Clinton found that each friend he made would in turn introduce him to a handful of influential VIPs; this snowball effect exponentially expanded his circle of contacts. Follow Clinton's lead and network aggressively. That doesn't mean you must shake hands with random attendees at trade conferences and befriend them. A smarter approach is to leverage your professional contacts and let them open doors to new opportunities. Networking via referrals from your friends and acquaintances can prove less harrowing and more fruitful than "cold cultivating." In this Quick-Read you will learn:
  • How to make a great first impression.
  • Steps to overcome the anxiety of mingling.
  • How to network efficiently to meet the right people.
SOLUTION [top] Fast-growth entrepreneurs can usually sum up their business in one simple, compelling sentence. And they're rarely bashful about hyping their companies to anyone who's willing to listen. That's where networking comes in. The more people who know about you and what you do, the more allies you'll attract. If you try to forge connections with everyone you meet, you may not hit it off 100% of the time. But engaging a stranger in a stimulating or memorable conversation can launch a relationship that leads to all kinds of benefits. It all begins when you make a positive first impression. In face-to-face meetings, stand up straight and balance your weight on both feet. Loosen your facial muscles so that you radiate warmth and enthusiasm when you first greet someone. Don't lean, slouch or grimace when you shake hands. Banish thoughts of self-doubt (Is that stain visible on my shirt? Does my hair look good?) and replace them with pangs of curiosity (What does this person do? What goals do we share?). Make friendly eye contact during the first ten seconds to put the other person at ease. Network on the phone by opening with a "referral statement." Examples:
  • Bill Smith urged me to call you because…
  • Mary Jones thought of you when I asked if she knew anyone who…
  • After reading your excellent letter to the editor in today's paper, I wanted to introduce myself…
These statements instantly explain why you're calling and how you found that person. This helps the individual respond openly to you. Network on the Internet by joining chat rooms and participating in online forums. Make bold, concise points while adopting a deferential tone. Respect your readers by complimenting their insights, asking follow-up questions and seconding their observations. If the prospect of networking induces anxiety, use these pointers to relieve the tension: 1. Ask pleasing questions.You make friends faster if you invite them to discuss their favorite topics. Look for chances to ask, "What did you like about the speaker?", "You've accomplished so much: What are you most proud of?" or "What qualities do you look for in a great leader?" 2. Emphasize shared concerns.Establish common ground and you're off and running. If you both know someone, explain how you met that person. If you're carrying the same laptop computer model, compare notes. If you've both built businesses, discuss how you've overcome growing pains. 3. Maintain eye contact.You've heard this before, but it's still an issue for many people. If you're nervous, you may look down or away rather than at the other person. That makes it harder to gain rapport. Transform your anxiety into positive energy by gesturing freely, smiling authentically and leaning slightly toward others to show you want to listen to them. To expand your network, follow up when friends and acquaintances refer to others. If they mention some advice they were given, ask, "Who gave you that great advice?" If they tell stories about people they've met, ask for names. Once you gather this information, suggest that they hook you up with these contacts. REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE [top] For Sean Greene, founder and CEO of Away.com, networking is a means to an end. He's always hunting for new hires for his growing adventure travel Web site, and he makes it his hobby to meet people. He stays in touch with friends from his prior jobs, including a stint as a senior consultant with McKinsey & Co., and former classmates from college and business school. He also attends travel-industry conferences and participates in Internet groups in the Washington, D.C. area where his 75-employee company is based. Dennis Howitt of Minneapolis, Minn. constantly talks to people sitting next to him on the plane. "I'm the guy who's always asking you about your business as we fly from Chicago to San Francisco….It's amazing who I meet on those flights." He asks for a business card at the end of the conversation and sends a follow-up note when he gets back to the office, usually attaching a relevant article along with the note. DO IT [top]
  1. Seek networking opportunities where there is the greatest potential for value. Join the local Chamber of Commerce or another professional organization likely to include people whose business interests intersect yours.
  2. Look for ways to praise someone sincerely. Use the 3 A's: attitude, attire or astute observations.
  3. Strive to learn. Dig for information by posing clarifying questions, taking notes or asking for examples. This transforms superficial networking into a more productive use of your time.
  4. Prepare 20-second "elevator speeches" that summarize what you do. Anticipate the follow-up questions others will ask, and rehearse your answers.
  5. Before arriving at a conference, know who will be there. Ask the host for a list of attendees along with background information. Identify in advance the key contacts you want to meet.
  6. Plant aides nearby to "free" you from wasted chatter. Ask them to either bring in another person for you to meet or drag you away if you signal that you're stuck in a dead-end conversation.
  7. Make every word count, whether you're networking in person, by phone or online. Don't repeat yourself, ramble or change subjects abruptly. Attach a question after making a few statements to encourage a more lively exchange.
  8. Position yourself in a room so that you can maneuver easily. Avoid getting boxed in so that you can't see who comes and goes. That said, always focus on the person you're talking to. Don't show disrespect by looking around for other contact opportunities.
  9. When mingling in small groups, balance your eye contact so that you visually envelop everyone. If someone asks you a question, start your response by looking at that person. But complete your answer while looking at others.
RESOURCES [top] Books How to Work a Room: The Ultimate Guide to Savvy Socializing in Person and Online, revised edition, by Susan RoAne (Warner, 2000). Internet Sites "Conference-Commando Field Manual," by Scott Kirsner, Fast Company(January 1999), 124. "For CEOs Only: How to find a CEO peer group that's worth your time--and money," by Donna Fenn, Inc.(March 1998), 101-2+   Article Contributors Writer: Morey Stettner  
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