Many entrepreneurs consider networking to be the cornerstone of success. To me, networking is a fun way to meet new people and team up with them to accomplish mutual interests for a greater good. It’s more about giving than taking. After spending the past seven years networking in New York and Los Angeles – here’s some advice that can help guide you on your journey in making the right contacts and forging sincere long-lasting relationships.
Ask Yourself – What Kind of Contacts Do You Want?
This question is the heart of your search. At the end of the day, you’re looking for people who you connect with and who want to forge an actual bond. A co-worker once said, “A good relationship is when two people build each other up.” It’s true, for both love and business. Try to seek like-minded people, who share similar interests and have the same goals – that will make chatting more fun and less business-centric. That’s how contacts turn into friends.
“A rising tide raises all ships.”
Too many people target the most powerful person in the room, and desperately try to get face-time – imagining that he or she will press a button and magically rocket their career skyward. In reality, most bigwigs have a firmly established base of friends and contacts whom they rose through the ranks with – and will see right through your ploy. Instead, turn to the people on your level and tell them you’d like to rise together. Some will reply cynically, some may try to backstab you, but all you need are those few who are willing to truly go for it.
Listen & Smile
The problem with simple truths is that people often have to relearn them. When meeting someone new, make a good impression by giving them your full attention, smiling and actually listening to what they have to stay. Shake their hand firmly and look them directly in the eyes. These simple courtesies make all the difference because so few follow them.
Where Do Your Contacts Congregate?
Whether it’s Hollywood or the Financial District, uptown or downtown – figure out where your contacts flock. Join networking groups, ask friends and family if they know anyone in the specific field you are trying to cultivate relationships in. Research. Stephen Sadove, CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue Incorporated advises to: “Get involved. What I mean by that is to get involved in areas that are of interest to you. Volunteer … You’ll find that doors will open.”
Not Everyone is Going to be Your Friend – And That’s Okay
Networking has accurately been compared to dating. Often, one will go on what they believe was a good meeting only to later find that the people who they met with, who seemed so friendly, aren’t returning their emails, phone calls or promises. That they actually have no interest in getting to know you past your initial meeting. That’s totally okay. Just move on. What you are doing is panning for gold. You don’t want to be in a relationship that’s one sided. Don’t be bitter, just be glad that you know where not to pour your valuable time and energy.
Ping & Follow Up
Take every opportunity to reach out to contacts in sane person intervals. Email, send cards and be thoughtful. Ask them how their families are doing, ask to catch up over coffee or brews. Keep working on the relationship, because they must be continually cultivated in order to flourish.
Connect Contacts with Other Contacts
Don’t just be a taker. It rubs people the wrong way and is a mark of poor character. Give back to your contacts by paying attention to their aims and connecting them with people in your rolodex who can help them toward their goals.
Take Nothing Personally
It’s easy to feel slighted – and people have probably felt wronged by you at one time another without you knowing. The same is true on the flipside. Just keep in mind that rarely do people mount personal attacks.
Be real. Be authentic. Its odd how adulthood and the games people play can make them forget how to do what comes naturally at birth – being yourself. Go forward with kindness and sincerity and good things will happen. Plus, you’ll stand out from the crowd.
Don’t just rely on networking alone. Keep learning and honing your skills so that you always bring value to the table. No contact on earth can help you if you don’t have the goods or can’t deliver. The adage, “It’s not what you know, or who you know.” Is not accurate. Bobbie Congress – a VP at Ogilvy and Mather put it more aptly. “It’s a combination of talent meets nepotism.” In other words, there is no substitute at being excellent at what you do …even if it helps to know someone. One without the other can get you in the door, but ultimately talent is more important than contacts.
Whose Got Your Back?
Having worked in entertainment for seven years – I was often scared to leave my old job. I kept picturing every contact crossing me off their list the second I was no longer of any use to them. Then I realized something important. Those aren’t the kind of contacts you want. You want people who are invested in you for the long-term. I then took out a notebook and wrote a list of people that I knew I could truly count on. There were around ten – when my list of contacts was in the hundreds. My small list was extremely liberating … and turned out to be inaccurate. Some of the most unexpected people came out of the wood-work later on who helped me in so many ways.
Here’s a two-step exercise:
STEP I: Write a list of people who you believe are truly there for you – no matter what.
STEP II: Hold on to them for dear life.
Mentor & Pay it Forward
If you ever get a chance to mentor someone, leap on it. It’s a symbiotic relationship that you will learn a lot from and it’s just plain nice to help somebody. Also, be sure to continually go out of your way to help people in your network – whether it’s a ride to the airport, helping them move, or just consoling them in a time of grief. It will prove that you aren’t in it just to get ahead, but to give and grow.
Never Eat Alone by Keith Farazzi
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie