Getting Started with Networking

As an earlier article I wrote mentioned, I waded into the world of networking a week ago for the first time. However, based on how networking has been described by people who spend much of their life networking, I have in fact been networking for many years.

Any time I talk to a member of my family, a friend, or a coworker about what I do, I am networking. If I establish a relationship with someone, whether professional or personal, I am networking. In the book Make Your Contacts Count the authors describe 6 types of connections, from what they term Accident at one extreme, to Ally at the other. Using their descriptions as a base, I will explain why I can claim to have been networking for years, and so have you.

An Accident is someone you meet by chance, such as the person sitting next to you on an airplane as you fly to Aruba for a vacation. While you may chat with them for the duration of the flight, unless you establish some common ground and exchange contact information with a reason to follow up, you would be hard-pressed to locate that person again.

An Acquaintance is someone whom you could locate again if you needed to, for example, a friend of a friend. You’ve met them, you know their name, and you know how you are connected. However, your knowledge of who they are and what they do is limited, as is their knowledge about you.

An Actor is someone who knows a bit more about you, for example, a friend or a coworker. You could probably describe what they do in general terms, and you see and talk to each other on occassion.

An Associate knows what you do. They can give examples of your work. You talk to one another regularly, and are in touch with each other’s activities.

An Advocate not only knows what you do, but they will volunteer that information to others. They can describe in detail what you do to a third person, and can and do recommend you to others.

An Ally is one who is interested in you succeeding. They share in your successes and failures, they give you advice, they push you to move ahead and succeed.

Using these stages as a baseline, you have been networking for a long time, just like me, except, also like me, you probably didn’t realize it. If you were to write down the names of 100 people you know, you could group them using the 6 stages mentioned above. For example, your parents are your Allies, as they push you to succeed. A friend who you meet for coffee once a week would be an Associate or Advocate. The guy you ran into at a friend’s birthday party last week would be classified as an Accident.

Every time you talk to someone, you have the potential to move them closer to you in your network. As you approach the Ally stage, you have fewer and fewer people in your network. Your goal, when networking, is to gain Advocates and Allies. The way you do this is by gaining the trust of the people you meet, and helping them to be informed about what it is you do.

This, of course, will take time, since people will not advertise you unless they have a reason to trust you. That means that they need to see examples of your work, they need to know people whom you have worked for. They need to know about some of the more spectacular successes that you’ve had. They are gaining an appreciation for your competence. This is something that takes time, but you can speed it up if you pay attention.

When you speak to someone, whether they are already in your network or not, figure out which stage of your network they belong to. Then decide how you are going to move them one or two stages closer to being an Advocate. Can you demonstrate your competence in an area they can relate to? Use examples that pertain to their area of expertise. If they are in sales, and you write software, talk about a piece of work you did for someone in marketing. If information is confidential, find ways to obscure who you worked for, and any proprietary information.

People will assume that if you do one thing well, you do many things well. If you talk to Bill and promise to send him some information on your latest project, and then do so, Bill will assume you are reliable. If you tell Mary that can refer her a competent electrician who is cheap, and that referral works out, Mary and the electrician appreciate you because you gave one person work and saved another some money. However, Mary will now trust your referrals and opinions more, because the first one you gave worked out for her. As time goes on, you can reinforce this trust, but establishing it in the first place is key.

First impressions are the most lasting, so plan on making yours memorable in a way that shows you in the best light. Find an Ally to help you work on your image, go out an prepare a few variations of a personal introduction, get some examples to back up your competence, and meet new people and reconnect with people you “already know”.