By David Smith
To really benefit from networking, it’s important to flip your approach on its head. Instead of thinking “What’s in it for me?” you need to start thinking, “How can I be helpful to this person and pay it forward?”. Networking isn’t about quick wins. The rewards of a strong network you have nurtured over time are surprising, lateral, and tend not to be obvious: the whisper of a buyer’s changing priorities here, a recruitment recommendation or invitation to speak there. As Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
It doesn’t take a social genius to see that the more useful you are to somebody, the better disposed they will be to help you out in future. Your aim is to become a trusted connection, not somebody who hassles them. Make sure you are constantly thinking about how you can add value to your network, whilst making it clear that you aren’t seeking anything in return.
Every interaction where you support another person in your work ecosystem helps you build “social capital,” the intangible commodity described by the US sociologist Wayne Baker as “the resources available to you in your personal and business networks,”. The more you have of it, the more of a desirable prospect you become as a contact, so investing in it reaps rewards. The more you enrich and nurture your network, the better it gets.
Here are a few tips on building your social capital via your network:
- Take time to nurture the connections you have.
Show them an article you’ve seen that you think they’d be interested in, let them know about relevant upcoming events, introduce them to someone they should know or meet them for a coffee. In our age of email, a phone call is an occasional and often welcome interruption. Look for big and small opportunities to stay in touch – but pick them carefully as this is all about mindful engagement not bombardment.
- Have a strategic plan for keeping in touch.
At FirstCapital, we take a methodical approach to this, making sure we catch up with our core Corporate Development and Growth Equity Investors contacts at a number of times every year to find out what they are up to and what their priorities are. Decide when is best to make contact and when you would next like to meet up and then set a reminder to yourself to do this.
- Keep your eyes open.
When I was living in the Valley, I met some of my best contacts at friends’ barbecues or school events. I met the COO of Facebook at our school events as well as partners at the major VC firms, so I had the chance to speak to them there on several occasions. Of course, this doesn’t happen all the time, but it absolutely can if you are open to meeting new people at events. At social events, never just talk to the people you know, break out of your comfort zone and talk to new people. Think laterally about opportunities to connect; scour a conference list and suggest coffee with a new contact, and recommend a lawyer or accountant for somebody who mentions they need one.
- Invite everyone you meet to connect on LinkedIn.
People you meet may not seem relevant now, but they may become so in the future. Just today I was looking for a connection in a company and found 3 people there who had all moved there since I had last met them. LinkedIn is your living social contacts book, as people move roles they update their details and your network is always up-to-date. Your LinkedIn profile is also your shop-front window, so make sure it is up-to-date and that it truly reflects your career achievements and aspirations. It’s perfectly acceptable to connect on LinkedIn with strangers too. For example, you can say: “I found you on LinkedIn, I would like to connect as I am working with AI companies and would like to explore opportunities and learn more about your company”. You have a 300-character limit on what you can put into your LinkedIn introduction so use them wisely and always add a personal note to any request to connect to make sure you stand out. I can get 10 or more LinkedIn requests to connect every day and I reject most of them as I cannot see what value we can add to each other.
- Remember the golden rule: “Ask for advice, receive action – ask for action, receive advice.”
People like to be asked their opinion and to be able to demonstrate their knowledge so don’t be afraid to reach out and engage. If you want them to do something for you, it if often best to engage them on the subject first. If you are asking them to do something for you, like an introduction, then make their life easy and write up a few short but compelling paragraphs on “What is in it for them”.
- Show your appreciation
Don’t forget that if someone does help you, always follow-up within 24-48 hours to say thank-you. Even better is a personal hand-written thank-you note if they have done something really important for you.
In summary, another way to look at it is “it’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you”.