Much has been written about networking. There appears to be a change in how people view networking today. Let me be clear – I enjoy networking events. My brother and I started one that has grown to 3 major cities in 2 states! But it’s how we and those who participate in First Fridays Fort Wayne approach networking that makes the difference.
To many, networking is simply about meeting as many people as you can at an event and handing out business cards as if they were candy. Keep it upbeat. Keep it on the surface. High energy. This, in and of itself, is not bad. That approach may work.
But it doesn’t work for me. I want to encourage you to try a new approach.
How to Expand Your Relationship Reach
- Approach Networking Intentionally. Go to an event in order to seek out new relationships. That may result in exchanging business cards. Absolutely be upbeat. But make your goal to get to know someone better. Learn who they are, what drives them, how they impact the community, what leadership looks like to them in their current circumstance.
- Follow up & Follow through. Networking events should not become a one-and-done event. When you seek to get to know someone more, the networking event is only the start. After the event, follow up with an email or a LinkedIn message. Thank the person for their time. Thank them for sharing with you – allowing you into their world. Then invite them to coffee, breakfast, or lunch. Guess what? People will talk with you when you buy them a meal! They really will!
- Intentionally Prepare to Add Value. When you get together over coffee or a meal, come prepared with more questions to ask. Prior to this meeting, visit their website (personal or business). Review their LinkedIn profile and content. Your goal should be to have an engaging conversation that will lead to understanding the person better, understanding their business, and how you can help them connect with others, grow their business, and become better.
- Introduce Them to Other Leaders. Learn the skill of connecting people to people. You will help your community to become better and stronger when you become a connector of people.
- Continue the Connection. Share content you discover with new connections. Do this via email or on LinkedIn. Read content they’ve shared on LinkedIn and make positive comments. Share their content with other leaders who you know would find that information valuable. Drop them an encouraging email or text from time to time. Invite them to a ballgame. In other words, nurture the relationship.
The result of intentionally doing this has created so many meaningful relationships with leaders in my community. My 13 year old son constantly tells people, “my dad knows everyone.” That’s not true, but he recognizes that I have worked hard at building relationships, and we have talked about why I do this and why it is important.
I have found no down-side to developing relationships in my community. My life has been blessed by the people I’ve met:
- A seasoned leader who continues to impact emerging leaders, entrepreneurs, and a mentor to men and women who are growing their businesses. He is an author and a proud dad to 2 accomplished children.
- A leader who has served an Indiana Governor. She has been recognized with the highest award given to a citizen of our state. She continues to impact our community through her economic development work.
- A leader who influences young people through the arts. His choir has been a World Champion in a competition in China. His vision will impact at risk young people for decades to come.
- A leader who has served 2 Secretaries of Defense in Washington, D.C. He has shared what he has learned from world-class government leaders with local leaders here giving us a perspective few have had.
- A leader who was an award winning news anchor shared how to communicate like a pro. Her insights from her experience inspired many leaders in our area.
- A leader who recently shared his life story with me. From a high schooler who didn’t care about much to learn some hard lessons along his journey to an effective leader today who has fiercely decided he needed to self-develop for the good of his family, his company, and his community.
“So, should I go to a network event?” YES! There are so many events out there. I just want to encourage you to take a different approach to networking. Think about it…then take action.
You will not regret developing relationships. You will become better by doing this. You will help others become better. And, as a result, you will help your community become better.