I regularly get questions from people asking me about networking and sometimes I am surprised by how a simple question can really force me to think. I have been building my global network for many years, so networking comes as second nature to me. I give little thought to “starting” and what that requires.
Where do I start? This question forced me to take a step back and think about “how would I teach someone who is just starting to build a network?” It forced me to reflect on my own life and how I started out. From there it became clear that I could not tell someone to do it the way I did; that path has been fraught with detours, stumbling blocks and big mistakes. It was a long and difficult path, but there was really no one to ask this question of and few if any books about it.
With that reflection before me, I decided to answer this question with what I wish I had known.
If you want build a network (and you should want to), then your first step is to understand what kind of network you want to build. What do you want from your network? When you establish clarity around what you are trying to build and accomplish, you will have a better idea about where and how to go about building your network.
For instance, do you want to build a business network that will give you connections, make introductions for you, pass your referrals and carry your message to their network?
Or are you looking to build a support network made up of people who can support you when you need help with projects, knowledge about upcoming trends and events, or a willingness to lend a hand when you call for help?
Are you looking to build a diverse global network that allows you to explore how other cultures do what you do, with the possibility of connecting to others around the world who will help expand your horizons?
Frankly, your network can be made of up of a variety of types but if you focus on what you are trying to achieve then you will have a better sense of who you want to connect with and where to find them.
Over the years, I have noticed that great networkers have the following three traits: they are intentional; they are curious; and they are adventurous. They are not looking to add every person they meet to their network. Instead, they add intentionally. They genuinely want to know more about people and they are not afraid to go where others are not. They have a way of being that draws you to them.
Be intentional! Too many people build their networks by gathering business cards and putting them in their database and calling it their network. This is a great way to build a mailing list and it all happens without a plan. If you are intentional, you meet people, have a conversation with them, and add them to your network with a plan to cultivate the relationship by staying connected. Develop your relationships not your database.
Be curious! When you approach a person with a sense of curiosity, you go with an open mind and want to know more. Curiosity is one of my key strengths in building a global network. I have an intense curiosity about people and their differences as well as their similarities. When you approach your network with curiosity, you are like a child eager to learn and people will be attracted to you. Spend more time asking people questions about themselves and you will not only learn a lot but you will be seen as someone who cares about others. The bonus: you will forge deeper relationships in your network.
Be adventurous! Don’t go to the same old networking events that everyone else is going to. Take a risk and go somewhere new! Have you been to one of the “other” chamber events, like the Hispanic Chamber, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber, the Black Chamber or the Asian Chamber? Most cities have local branches of these organizations- go check them out. How about fundraisers, political events, ethnic events and private parties? Attending a variety of events will add diversity to your network.
Building a network will enrich your life in ways that you never considered. As you invest in your network, your network will, in turn, invest in you, your life and your business. There are a great many more steps to building a solid network and I will write about them in future articles. For now, consider these tips, give thought to what you have been doing, and create an intentional plan to begin building your network in 2014.
Global speaker, networker, author Hazel Walker considers herself a citizen of the world. She spends her time helping others realize that it is possible to dream big and reach those dreams. She lives and works on two continents, the United States and Australia. Hazel has a passion for helping women embrace their power and create a global reach. She is a five time published author and her newest book, Business Networking and Sex (not what you think), has hit number one on 12 different best selling lists. She is considered an expert on the topic of referrals and how to generate them consistently.