The company disappeared.
I was the product actuary and reported to the Senior Vice President. He was about to retire. This created wonderful opportunities — or would have ... but the company disappeared. The parent decided to “harmonize” operations. I lost my team of 10 and corner office. This was 2004.
I was spared but worried about next time. What would happen then?
I decided to become known by strangers. That has made all the difference. I started blogging in 2007. I even decided to do the unspeakable ... start networking. That’s not easy if you’re introverted and don't know many people. In my usual way, I started to learn the techniques.
I found the advice obvious or self-serving. For instance, give before you ask (and be sure to ask). The stories were entertaining — like the ones in get-rich-quick schemes. I met this stranger and now I have a private jet.
Maybe the ideas worked yesteryear when networks were hidden in private Rolodexes. The Internet makes valuable what's visible — networks included. The transparency showed that too many networking experts lacked congruence. Too often, a quick Google search showed that their words on stage and did not match their actions in real life. That chasm destroys trust.
I discovered three keys to networking in today’s interconnected world.
- Act like a host
- Stay visible
Act Like A HostPretend you’re hosting the event and want to make sure your guests enjoy and benefit — even the introverts. Introduce yourself. Introduce people the people you’re meeting to each other.
As a host, you have permission to talk to anyone there. What's more, you have the obligation to talk to some guests, even if you’d rather not.
General questions like these help start conversations:
- How did you find out about this event?
- Why did you decide to come?
- What other events do you attend?
- How do you like this event?
You can also ask questions specific to the event. At an alumni gathering, you might ask fellow attendees
- When did you graduate?
- What are you doing these days?
When you act like a host, you’re giving. People want to stay in touch because you helped them and the event. Let them.
Stay VisibleA great first impression that doesn’t mean much if you don’t stay in touch. Out of sight …
Follow-up matters. The process is simple but rarely done well or consistently. Since anyone can follow-up, the ones who don’t sink and disappear. After all, life is busy. There are often substitutes.
Even if you create a so-so first impression, maintaining contact increases your impact. Maybe your 20th impression matters more than the first or second.
Meeting in person is ideal but may not be possible often. What happens in between? You can phone or text, if the other person welcomes that form of contact.
These days, staying in touch is especially easy via social networks. If you don’t feel comfortable talking or get your best ideas afterwards, that’s okay. With social media, your communications are asynchronous. You have time to think and edit before you click Send. This gives introverts an advantage.
When you want to stay in touch with someone you’ve met, exchange business cards (you have business cards, right?). Ask if they’re on LinkedIn (usual answer: yes). Ask if they’d like to connect (usual answer: yes). Send them an invitation within the next few days. If they accept, thank them. See how you can help without them asking. I’ll often give a tip on how they can improve their LinkedIn profiles.
Some events have “celebrities” (say as speakers). You can probably chat and have photos taken with them but that doesn’t mean they want you in their networks. You have a better chance of staying in contact with “regular” attendees.
NurtureThese days, your network is visible. You’re judged by the company you keep and how you help them. It’s tougher to maintain false impressions over time. Incongruence is easy to spot.
Networking is like gardening. Besides planting the unmarked seeds, you must nurture and be patient. You can’t tell what will grow or be in demand. Plant a diverse crop. Connect to “good” people outside your niche. You don’t know who knows who. You don’t know know who needs what when.
As a steward, you have the responsibility to protect, grow and strengthen your network. Help without expecting a direct or immediate payback. You will get rewarded. Your network notices your ongoing generosity if you share online. As your digital tapestry improves, you’ll make stronger impressions on each new connection.
People connect to you for various reasons. They aren’t necessarily ready to become a customer. If your contact looks self-serving, you’re harming the relationship. My primary network is on LinkedIn, where I post regular updates of value and pay attention to my connections.
What would I do next? This time, I had a solid, diverse network in place. I got an unexpected suggestion.
There’s a growing and unmet need for insurance literacy. The products are complex and advisors vary in skill. I've become an insurance literacy mentor with free services at Riscario (blog, wiki) and paid services at Taxevity. My growing network vouches for me and invites clients.
Transparency has changed networking. The benefits in both directions are unpredictable and immeasurable when you focus on consistent persistent generosity.
- Building trust with networking: full-length presentation (new)
- Building trust in a transparent world
- Building trust before meeting in person (new)
- Three tips to master networking events
- Three networking nuggets from Donna Messer
- Adventures in networking without ever meeting
- Tips from two networking fumbles
- Lessons from ‘Networking With Millionaires’ by Thomas J Stanley
- Fixing what’s wrong with conferences and networking
- Create your web presence in three easy steps
- Building trust with LinkedIn: your 30-day action plan
- Show your rough edges to unleash revenue
- Remember Apple’s ‘1984’ ad? Fight conformity with your free hammer
- How to apply consistent persistent generosity
- image courtesy of Christopher Hall