Archive for the 'Networking doesn’t have to be hard.' Category

Networking Doesn’t Have to Be Hard: Cultivating Interesting Friends and Conversations

Monday, January 28th, 2013

When I asked my friends for their views on professional networking, Rachel summed up my whole philosophy in a nutshell:

“Don’t think of it as networking . . . think of it as finding friends and having interesting conversations.”

ABSOLUTELY. Many people are inherently interesting, especially when you get them talking about their own areas of focus, whether that means gluten-free cooking, coaching Little League, or enterprise sales. If you have so much as a slight interest in any of these things — or, even better, more than one of them — then you automatically have something to talk about.

Getting away from the Consumption Model of Networking

Bear with me for a moment as I put on my Cultural Critic hat. (Read: “Here comes a wee rant.”) We live in a society that promotes consumerism everywhere you look. We’re all encouraged by endless advertising, marketing, and unconscious peer pressure to connect with the brands and products and mass media that we consume.

If you do networking the smarmy way, it’s more of the same narcissism: How can I get what I want? Back-slapping, mercenary networking is in some ways about consuming the assets of others (their business contacts, the jobs they can give us, their money) for our own aggrandizement.

Contrast this to the kind of networking that Rachel talked about. In my view, that model includes things like:

  • Making real human connections with interesting people.
  • Being open to new ideas.
  • Celebrating others’ achievements.
  • Offering to help.

That’s a much, much better way to be, right?

Living Your Life as a Salon

If you’re willing to make it so, networking can turn your life into a sort of literary or artistic salon. In this context, networking is about finding and exploring the most compelling ideas and passions of interesting people.

Yes of course it’s to mutual benefit — just like all the members of a literary salon can walk away smiling from an evening spent together, enjoying the stimulation that comes with laughter, camaraderie, and new ideas. That’s what you’re going for.

Even better, the capabilities of today’s social media mean that you can do this at your own pace, and you can do it from anywhere.

  • Waiting at the mechanic’s shop for your car to be ready? You can read an intriguing article and share it with your friends.
  • Stuck in a backwoods location where no one shares your interests? You can find your birds of a feather online.
  • Stuck in a stodgy company that isn’t open to new ideas? You can learn and share with some of the most innovative practitioners in your field through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.

Social media is particularly a boon to introverts. I’ve met some of the brightest, funniest, most engaging people online — only to have them tell me later that they’re extremely shy in face-to-face settings. Twitter and Tumblr and other outlets give them the chance to take that extra moment or two so that they can collect their thoughts and share them in a format that they can control. This means that anyone can participate in a salon-style life — without needing to be a wit like Oscar Wilde or a raconteur like Christopher Hitchens.

Good networking means connecting with interesting people, finding out more about them, helping them out, and maybe collaborating with them.

What do you think about this approach to networking?

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Networking Doesn’t Have to Be Hard: Changing Your Expectations

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

When I asked my Facebook friends what I should write about in this series — or their own key advice for networking — my friend Marcel replied:

Part of it is time and the other is putting yourself out there without expecting anything in return.

These are two great topics to address, and I want to talk about both of them in terms of mindset or expectations.

Putting in the Time

A lot of people, in my experience, regard networking as somehow separate from their other personal and professional activities. True, you DO have to put in time for networking to be effective — but it’s not an outrigger activity. It really should be woven into the rest of what you do.

Think of this way: if you’re a working professional, most of your waking hours and much of your human interaction unfolds in a professional context. Even if you work from a home office or a series of hotel rooms, your mind spends lots and lots of time in working mode.

From a personal perspective, it would be a shame if you didn’t cultivate and harvest enjoyable interactions and friendships from all that time spent. From a professional perspective, it would be a shame if you put in all that hard work . . . but your personal contacts and their friends didn’t know enough about you to appreciate your abilities and achievements.

Networking is really nothing more complicated than cementing the human relationships that accompany your professional life. And that’s worth your time.

For this post, I’ll leave that at the philosophical level. In later posts we can dig into more of the ways that you can fold networking into your ordinary daily activities: cleaning out your inbox, reading things online, attending business meetings, and on and on.

No Quid pro Quo

Marcel has it exactly right when he talks about “putting yourself out there without expecting anything in return.”

This cannot be overemphasized: Networking isn’t about keeping score.

Uber-networker Keith Ferrazzi emphasizes this in his book Never Eat Alone — and in all of his writing about networking. You’re trying to connect with people, help them out, find areas of common interest, and invest your life and theirs with more meaning. It’s not a point-scoring contest.

Now, if someone goes full narcissist on you — always taking and never giving — sure, give them a wider berth. And you don’t have to get buddy-buddy with every cordial person who comes along. But that’s the same whether we’re talking about a college friend, a romantic partner, a colleague, or the other parents who split carpooling duty with you. In other words, it’s common sense for dealing with human nature.

In professional networking, one of the best things you can do is lead with curiosity about the other person — or even an offer to help. Examples:

  • “Hey, Marcel — how’s it going? What’s keeping you busy these days?”
  • “Great to see you briefly at the school the other night, Alicia. Tell me more about your new role — sounds like you’re running the show over there now!”
  • “Thanks for the shout-out on Twitter, Bryan. I see from your LinkedIn profile that you’re between jobs. Anyone I could introduce you to? Or how else can I help?”

Easy-peasy. You’re starting and nurturing conversations with friends, right? No need to make it more complicated than that — or to keep score on who owes a favor to whom.

Does this approach work for you? What would you add?

Networking doesn’t have to be hard: LinkedIn Endorsements.

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Last year, LinkedIn rolled out a new feature called Endorsements. It’s tied to the “Skills & Expertise” section of your LinkedIn profile*, and it lets your LinkedIn connections endorse your good qualities as a marketer, editor, project manager, or whatever else is relevant.

If you go to my LinkedIn profile, click the “View Full Profile” button, and scroll down to the Skills & Expertise section, you’ll see that friends have been nice enough to endorse me for my abilities in blogging, social media marketing, writing, public speaking, and so on. And every time someone has endorsed me, I’ve gotten a little notice in my inbox about it, which means . . .

Easy networking opportunity! All I have to do is drop the person a quick note, like this:

Hi, Robin–

Thanks for the LinkedIn endorsement — I appreciate it.

How’s life been treating you lately? What projects are you tackling in 2013?

Cheers,

Tim

Maybe Robin’s a former colleague I’ve been out of touch with, or maybe she’s just an acquaintance I met at a conference five years ago. I may not know what’s going on in her life at all — which is fine, because nothing in my note pretends that I do. It’s just a gentle, lightweight follow-up.

Note that, because her endorsement came via LinkedIn, I don’t even need her e-mail address. I can simply drop her a line via LinkedIn’s own private messaging functionality.

Note, also, that I could reuse this note — or something much like it — for just about anyone. They won’t know that it’s boilerplate, and there’s no need to make it any more complex than this.

Next steps:

  • If you can honestly comment on your friend’s expertise, go to her profile and endorse her for a skill she has listed. It’s as simple as clicking a button.
  • If you worked with this person and really liked them, you could go further and write them what LinkedIn calls a Recommendation — a short little testimonial in which you talk about her good qualities as a professional.
  • If she answers your note with something simple that doesn’t open up a dialogue (“Doing great — hope you’re well!”), no problem — it was just a friendly Hello for both of you.
  • If she answers your note with something meatier (“I see you switched jobs a couple of months ago. I’ve been thinking about a career shift myself . . .” etc.), then you’ve started a more substantial conversation. Share your thoughts — or even just encouragement — and maybe introduce her to another friend who could help her out.

If you’re involved in other social networks, you’ll immediately see that this model can be extended to any of the notifications that hit your inbox when someone likes your Facebook status, follows you on Twitter, and so on.

Easy enough? What are your thoughts on this?

~

* You DO have a LinkedIn profile, right? And you keep it up to date? If not,

  1. Get cracking.
  2. Tell me in the comments what else I should write related to LinkedIn in this series.
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Networking doesn’t have to be hard: introduction.

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Is “networking” a dirty word for you? It doesn’t have to be.

Especially since I’m drumming up work for this new chapter of my career — more about that in another post — I’ve been putting extra energy into networking lately, and thinking more about what goes into it. Friends tell me they have a hard time with it, and this includes friends who are both extremely personable and highly skilled professionally.

I recognize that I enjoy a key advantage when it comes to networking: I have the personality of a talk-show host. That overarching reality is probably not transferable to someone not wired like me.

But I also benefit from a mindset and a set of skills that are transferable, which is why I’m going to write a series of short posts under the rubric of “Networking Doesn’t Have to Be Hard.”

My list of topics already has several entries on it, but I would love to hear from you what topics I should cover.

Thoughts?

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