Like it or not, networking is an essential part of the business world. Success in business is all about forming connections. It helps you find jobs, recruit talent, discover new customers, and form relationships with potential investors.
When networking is done right, it provides a valuable return on investment, both financially and in monetary terms that you cannot get from simply grinding away at your computer eight hours a day.
However, when it comes down to it, most people are stumped. They either treat networking as a business card collection quest or are unsure where to begin to find the right people that can help unlock their career goals.
If you are struggling to meet people, here are four steps to killer networking that will help take your career to new heights:
Build Something Worth Noticing and Show Off Your Value
Before you start approaching people, you need to know your value proposition. Ask yourself what your unique selling point is? What makes you different to the hundreds of other people reaching out on a daily basis? What’s your hook? What is the one topic you are passionate about?
By becoming an expert in a particular niche, your name will become synonymous for those looking for solutions on that particular subject. Investing in your hook will make it that much easier when you want to make a lateral move in your company or when you want to connect with someone in your vertical.
It is how Lewis Howes was able to land one of his all-time heroes Tony Robbins on his podcast, The School of Greatness, after only one year of being on the air.
By building something that you excel at and providing value to people in your business or industry, you will stand out from the pack, and improve your networking skills.
Think Out of the Networking Box and Create the “Right Rooms”
The point of networking is to meet key players in your industry and form lasting mutually beneficial relationships. However, one of the biggest mistakes people make in their networking efforts is being in the ‘wrong room’ to achieve their goals.
Instead of finding the ecosystems where these people hang out, many networkers end up going to events and only meeting other people looking for that same green light connection that will transform their business.
To find these key influencers, you need to think outside of the networking box. If you cannot get into the curated events or the rooms where these people are hanging out, it is time to stop passing out business cards and get creative by creating your own “right” room.
Jay Allen, a master networker, has a fantastic story where he did just that. He created a list of ten prominent CIO’s, cold-called the first one and asked: “Would you like to have lunch with nine other top CIOs to discuss common challenges and solutions?” The CIO agreed, and from there he called the rest. Jay then hosted the lunch and created the “right room” to get to know these ten key players on a first-name basis.[Tweet “Killer #networking: 4 steps every #entrepreneur and #smallbiz owner should know.”]
Volunteer to Connect With the Right People and Grow Your Network
Volunteering is an excellent way to get close to the right people who can help you build a stronger professional network. It is a valuable way to develop business relationships and gain visibility in your industry while meeting people with similar interests.
Whether it is volunteering at industry related events, mentoring groups or even offering up your free time to work with a different team in your company, it is a simple action that can open many doors.
LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman supports this tactic. During an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, he said if he could have done one thing differently in his career it would have been to volunteer at Netscape. At the height of its success, the company was at the center of the commercial ecosystem of the internet and working there would have provided Hoffman with valuable opportunities to connect with the best in the business at the time.
Don’t make Hoffman’s mistake. Spend time researching your industry and find volunteer jobs that not only match your passions but will give you an opportunity to show off your skills while you build your network.
Practice Active Listening and Invest in the Success of Other People
However, practicing active listening is harder than you might think. When someone is talking are you thinking about your next rebuttal or are you focused on digesting the information before forming an opinion?
Meaningful conversations are an essential ingredient in successful networking. As much as you may want to get you message across, listening provides you with an opportunity to identify someone’s pain points and provide you with an opening to solve their problems.
By offering up support or advice, you will leave a lasting impression while increasing your own opportunity for growth and forming a strong business relationship.
So instead of treating networking as another checkbox, invest in other people’s success and seek out opportunities to help people in your network. It is not about collecting contacts for your Rolodex; it is about creating genuine connections, the most valuable kind there is, that will give your business a real chance at succeeding.
Spend the Time Investing in Your Network
At the end of the day, networking is a long game. Don’t expect huge results after your first conference or business lunch. It takes time to build trust and form mutually beneficial relationships.
But, don’t give up, you never know where your new connection might lead or the upswing it might have on your career. Remember, the goal is to be valuable. Once you have that, success will attract itself to you, and you will no longer have to chase it.
Shawn Parrotte is the marketing manager of Designli, a mobile development firm specializing in bringing certainty to the world of custom software development. Designli guarantees fixed price points, fixed scope of work ‘deliverables,’ and fixed timeframes for its clients as they build iPhone, Android, and web apps for startups and businesses wanting to scale.