Creative and effective networking is integral to your company’s stability and expansion. Before the internet, social media, instant messaging, GPS tracking and Google Analytics – we had the rolodex, the little black book, the folding map, the business card and the hand shake. Going back even further, when we didn’t even have television, we had what I call the bedrock of America: The family business, built on hard work and ingenuity – with a little help from the sandwich man, aka the “walking sign” ringing a little bell.
21st Century Networking
But even in this digital age, communication skills and people skills are just as vital, if not more so, than in decades past. Many a golden opportunity in my life first presented itself via a personal connection. There is no substitute for making friends and talking to people individually or as a group. The 21st century affords us the chance to combine personal and digital networking in unique ways.
Family & Friends
The first obvious way to network is through your family, friends and people you know. Now you may not wish to partner with a family member or close friend for personal reasons. A friend of mine partnered with his mother-in-law and it didn’t really work out. On the other hand, some of the greatest partnerships have been brothers, father and son, etc. Regardless, use your personal connections for mutual support and growth.
Social media is used more and more for networking. Facebook, Twitter and other sites provide forums for discussion. LinkedIn is a business network which can be very useful. Make sure you have an updated LinkedIn profile for others to refer to. You never know what prospective employer, customer or partner may be looking at your profile. A friend of mine just moved to Portland, Oregon to take a new job at Nike. How did he land the gig? His LinkedIn profile described his special skillset (programming, coding) and Nike contacted him. Use social media for networking but don’t leave it at that.
Events & Conferences
The ways you can use events and conferences are basically limitless. There are thousands upon thousands of other business people out there working the event and conference circuit for the exact same reason you would – to make connections! They’re looking for you! Let them know what YOU have to offer. Find out what THEY need and want. Find out what HELP they need and tell them how YOU can provide it. Even better, get yourself on the bill as a featured speaker at events, conferences, job fairs, professional association meetings, small business owner meetings, etc. It’s not as hard as you may think. There’s a good chance you have some piece of insight others don’t have.
The United Kingdom and the United States did not win World War II on their own. They had allies. Their most powerful ally was of course the Soviet Union. However oppressive the USSR was before and after the war, it was necessary at that time to form an alliance. On a less dramatic scale, use your networking skills to form alliances. Your most effective alliances are in the form of mutual cooperation. You have something that someone needs and they have something that you need. Seek out like-minded individuals and groups with similar goals. They need not be your competition; a business that caters to a similar clientele – but that offers something completely different than what you offer – is a great example of an alliance you could cultivate.
Make New Friends
Wherever you go, make new friends. Ask people what they do. If they are also networking, they’ll ask you what you do. Carry an attractive business card and hand it out. Be interested in others rather than seeking to be interesting. Look the part. Dress and act like a professional. That said, there are some fields where the leaders do not always wear a suit and tie. Mark Zuckerberg, billionaire Facebook founder, often wears his trademark hoodie. Some call it unprofessional, but it’s also a signature of his brand; the black hoodie and the grey T-shirt have three symbols emblazoned ever so subtly: The logos for “friend request”, “messages” and “notifications”. Steve Jobs wore his now iconic sweater, jeans and sneakers. But those are more the exception than the rule. When in doubt, dress sharp. Talk to people. Make friends.
Remember Miley Cyrus’ stunt performance at the Video Music Awards (VMAs)? Millions of people reeled in shock as she twerked and gyrated her way into the zeitgeist. Say what you will about Miley, that she took it too far, that she made a fool of herself, that she set a bad example for millions of teenage girls – and that’s all probably true – but she succeeded in doing one thing: SHE ATTRACTED ATTENTION! I’m not saying she did it the best way possible – far from it – but she got everyone’s attention. Right after that she got two hit songs, a hit album, a huge tour, and over a billion YouTube hits. An out of control pop star or a shrewd branding and marketing machine? You decide.
That’s what any business must do: Attract attention! The point is to stand out from the crowd. Retail outlets in malls get going on this during the Holidays. The ones who do a good job reap the rewards. When you talk to people, get their attention. When you have a booth at a conference, attract attention. When you speak or do a presentation, attract attention. When you market yourself on the internet or through various other channels, attract attention. Remember the sandwich man of old, with his double sign and chiming bell? He was getting people’s attention!
Attract attention! Network! Strengthen your circle of influence! Expand! Prosper!