Networking . . .

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership

[Updated 9/21/14] I’ve managed, somehow, to develop a network of colleagues who will often refer folks to me for many different reasons; potential clients, business owners, and increasingly executives in transition. This economy has become very challenging for everyone.

What strikes me is that there is so little knowledge about what networking really is all about. Many very accomplished salespeople, executives, business owners and “C-suite” folks THINK they know, but the evidence is to the contrary.

I receive a fair amount of “introductions” to people through e-mail. It’s another sign of the times and I too use e-mail to introduce people. After one such recent introduction, the person introduced contacted me by e-mail. Attached was a very detailed resume (bad in itself) and another document of “target companies.” The body of the e-mail said essentially; “Hi, I’m glad so-and-so introduced us. I’m working to expand my network. I’m a high level executive . . . blah, blah, blah!” This went on for a couple of paragraphs and then the person asked for three or four names from my Rolodex that might be good contacts for them.

Then came the clincher: “I know networking is about helping others. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you.” Right. Ninety-nine percent of first communication is about you, 1% is an after thought, throw away sentence acknowledging the recipient and that’s going to fly? I think not.

Networking, properly done, is always and only about what you can do the help the other person. Not about getting something for yourself. The person above did not have permission from me, did not yet know me, and should never have assumed I care about his plight/resume/target companies or anything else. I certainly am not going to introduce him to my network of trusted colleagues (who in turn trust me not to waste their time) based on that e-mail and attachments. Here’s a hard message for folks in transition to internalize: “No body cares about you.” . . . . Yet.

Instead, in building your network, it is critical to be authentically interested in helping the other person. The universe is indifferent, but generally fair in that “what goes around comes around.” You can’t fake this. It will be sensed that you are being manipulative – “S/he’s only acting interested because s/he wants something.” You have to build trust, give me a sense that you have my best interest at heart (or at least don’t intend to just “use me.”)

That’s why it takes a very long time to build a network. If you are introduced to me by one of my trusted inner circle of colleagues, then you have a leg up. Don’t destroy that budding trust by assuming you have permission to sell me something or ask me a favor.

So how do I go about this myself? Well, not perfectly for sure. Here’s what I attempt to do and actually do accomplish when I’m at my best. I would write that e-mail when Joe introduces me to Sue, copy both and say something along the lines of: “Hi Joe and Sue. Thanks for the introduction Joe. I am alway willing to reach out to someone in your network of colleagues. Sue, I’d love to know more about what you’re doing these days. Joe introduced us believing that in some way our relationship might be beneficial. Do you have any time over the next couple of weeks for a quick cup of coffee or phone call? Let me know and we’ll try to match calendars.”

I would then go out of my way to figure out how I can do something to help Sue. Find an article or perhaps make an introduction to someone else that would be mutually beneficial. I would only share about my own situation and how Sue can help me after she asks for that information. Which will only be after she has some feeling of trust that I’m not focused only on me and my own needs. If I’m focused on my own needs, then I don’t have her best interests at heart. If I don’t have her best interests at heart she cannot trust me to do what’s right, only what works for me.

Think about this. If you are introduced to someone as a possible beneficial relationship, do not burn the bridge with the new connection by being focused on yourself. Also, when you “blow the introduction,” you will cause damage to the person who introduced you in the first place. They won’t make the mistake of bringing you into their network again. This takes time. This is difficult. This takes lots of energy because you really do have to do something for someone else, not just hang your resume on every phone pole. If you’re going to try to network, then learn the intricacies. This is not a game for amateurs.