Not long ago, when internet was not an integral part of our day to day life, keeping a network of 50-60 important people was considered sufficient for the long term career success of a professional. Even small businesses could successfully survive with 100-200 customers and prospects.
Since the internet started to significantly impact our lifestyles, the game of networking has completely changed. Technology has made it a lot easier to reach and access thousands of people. Today if your LinkedIn profile shows less than 500 connections, you are not considered an active networker. For businesses, large or small, it is pretty common to have a network of millions of customers.
Despite the technological advancement, many executives and professionals still feel challenged and overwhelmed when it comes to networking. Firstly, they wrongly believe that it is practically impossible to network with large groups of people. Secondly, they don’t realize that the game of networking has changed.
The power of internet and social media has even changed the meaning of networking. Today you do not have to physically go to conferences and networking events to develop new contacts. With your devices you are connected with the external world 24/7 and it is convenient possible to communicate with hundreds of people in a day without leaving your place.
To leverage the networking for your career or business success, it is important that you have access to large number of important people. Technology has made it possible. You do not need to have an intimate personal relationship to keep people in your network. A professional link or business connection is sufficient reason to invite people to your network.
On LinkedIn half of the users have 500+ connections and about 20% have more than 1000. These are high leveraged networkers who are making best use of technology. But it’s not only a number game. Quality is crucial and technology also gives you power to narrow down your focus on people who can be most relevant to your networking objectives.
Below I have compiled the 8 rules of networking that are crucial to follow in today’s highly competitive and technologically advanced professional environment.
1. Social media is a fantastic place to rapidly build up a large high quality network:
Most people do not like the idea of meeting strangers in person to develop networking. Time is also a major constraint towards physically attending networking events. Social media, particularly LinkedIn, is a fantastic place to get started. LinkedIn allows you to send connection requests to expand and build your network.
If you are a beginner, you can start with your school and college friends and then include your work colleagues from your current and previous employment. To build up further you can add contacts among your customers, suppliers, bankers, auditors etc. This should easily take you to 500+ level in few weeks.
2. Clearly define your target segments
While social media can give you access to thousands of people that you may connect, networking is not a numbers game only. You need to clearly define the target segments where you want to build your connections. It mainly depends on your networking goals and objectives. Usually, it is the domain of your professional expertise e.g. Finance executives and professionals.
3. Make yourself visible and approachable
While you are growing your network, it is critical that you make yourself visible and approachable to the outside world. Not only that the people you send connection request to need to know who you are, you may also want people from your target segment to approach you for connection.
Keep your email and phone contact visible in your profile, if you can. People feel more comfortable to reach you if you tell them how to.
4. Protect your time from wasteful networking
Time is your most valuable asset. While social media has made it quite easy to reach thousands of potential connections, it is also very tempting to waste lot of time just surfing the spicy and irrelevant contents. Discipline yourself and keep the irrelevant people and their contents out of your network.
Same goes for physical events. Select very carefully which event you want to participate and what objectives you want to achieve. Attending events in person is very time consuming and you must have a clear reason. If it is networking, you must achieve a good ROI.
5. Protect your reputation
A man is known by the company he keeps. Connect with people who make professional and business sense depending on your current position or occupation. Particularly, be careful while accepting connection request from the people you do not know. Evaluate their background and see if their profiles match with the people you desire to connect with. Ignore if there is insufficient information.
Also, do not get indulged into political, unethical or cheap conversation. It impacts your personal brand.
6. Patience, please. Networking works like dating
Networking for the sake of networking is a waste of time. Set and define your clear goals and objectives. It could be finding a new job or seeking a new business opportunity. Experts estimate that 70% of the jobs are found through networking. But it’s hard work and requires patience.
Networking works like dating. In dating you never ask for marriage in the first meeting. Similarly, in networking you should never ask for a job during the beginning phase. It takes time and some serious efforts to build up the connection from a mere introduction to a compelling relationship where you can ask for help or a favor.
7. Make yourself transparent
In today’s digital world there is hardly any privacy. Every click you make leaves clues somewhere to be added to your personal profile. Every time you pass through a public place, your image is captured by hundreds of cameras. It is hard to believe how much personal information Facebook has already gathered for all of us from different sources.
Those who have excessive concerns about privacy and are reluctant to share their personal info on their public profile, do pay a price. Opportunities may not reach them because their profiles may not be transparent or there is insufficient personal information for others to be interested in them.
8. Networking is a process
Networking requires continuous efforts. Even if you have reached a high quality, high volume network, it may soon die if you do not make continuing efforts to keep it alive. Develop a general approach of GIVING rather than TAKING. Try to benefit your network by regularly providing relevant and useful information.
Always response personally to each and every contact from your network. Keep in touch with your network through your personal and professional updates that others may be interested in.
Networking is all about building relationship. Relationship is the vehicle on which you ride your career journey. Relationship is one of the main ingredients of success for top leaders.
Networking and building relationship should be your natural trait. We are social animals. We all want to connect with each other. Relating is human.
Develop the confidence that you are important enough for others to be in their network. But don’t wait for them to contact you. Take initiative and you would be pleasantly surprised how many important people are happy to connect with you.
Good luck and happy networking.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Saleem Sufi is a CFO Leadership Coach and Strategy Expert with more than 20 years CFO level experience working for top world class Fortune 500 and Private Equity owned companies in Asia Pacific, Middle East, Europe and United States. He is the Founder and President of MECA CFO Alliance where he leads the CFO Academy with an entire focus on leadership development and career growth among the senior Finance community.