by Davis Blaine | June 1, 2017 12:08 pm
During my many years of learning about networking and fostering relationships, I have probably heard every networking myth (i.e., excuse for not putting forth the effort to network). Let me dispel at least some of them.
“I have enough contacts. I do not need to establish one more.”
That may well be true for you, so you think. What a burden it is (he said, factiously) to spend the time to connect with another…(fill in the blank).
My answer is “You Never Know.” That very next person may be your very best connection, friend, business client, etc. Why not be open to at least a phone contact, especially if you trust and respect the person who is giving you the connection? Do you have confidence that she knows you well enough to make the effort to connect you?
In our business and personal lives, there are obvious direct links, people with whom we can develop meaningful relationships. So what about the randomness of a next contact? Many network groups have copied the ProVisors troika concept; that is, arranging a meeting of three people outside of the large group meeting. This setting typically enhances the in-depth understanding of one another’s business and personal life. If a relationship is meant to develop, the troika is a key ingredient.
Now, suppose that one person in the troika is not a direct link, referral source, or resource. Yet, that person has a family connection to a large business, one which really needs your services. The randomness of making connections occurs more often than you might think. Besides, even if there were no direct link or the “random” family business, you can still show up and find out how you can help that person.
Many people resist that one more contact because they feel it is a burden or obligation. How can they befriend someone new, send them business, or serve as a resource to them? You can always find ways to give to someone else. That giving does not have to include a new client.
“I hate small talk. It is tedious and boring. So how do I avoid it?”
Most people want more than chitchat or small talk. But some of it is necessary as a way of greeting others or not being awkward in social settings. Small talk can lead to deeper conversations, or you can direct it there. The art of the segue is probably the most underrated personal communication skill. Often, humor is a good way to switch topics or focus in a conversation. Use it if it is a natural part of your personality. False or stilted attempts at humor are worse than not invoking humor. Be true to your self. The best way to improve your communication style and impact is to get help from a professional coach who can personally train you.
I do not consider myself the most inspirational or ideal public speaker. I am much better, and more comfortable, leading a group setting, whereby I can interact with others and respond to their dialogue and comments. Prior to presenting to an audience, I have the natural or normal trepidations. I find it interesting that some people are perfectly comfortable giving a prepared speech, but very insecure in a first one-on-one meeting. Find your level of comfort and work to improve it. It may be the difference between being average or successful. Like most speakers/presenters, the more I practice my delivery, the better the outcome. In Own the Room, the authors explain that good preparation does not mean memorization or reading from a teleprompter. It does mean knowing your materials, capturing a tone and rhythm, and then sharing yourself with your audience. To that end, I enjoy presenting at least a part of me in every talk.
“I am a senior professional/executive. I will likely never meet or connect with someone on my level.”
Maybe not, but why preclude the possibility of making that connection? EVERY HUMAN NEEDS AND WANTS TO BE CONNECTED TO A LIKE-MINDED COMMUNITY. I think even Henry David Thoreau left the wilderness to return to some societal connections; and, maybe to get his writings published!
Each of us knows or knows of high-powered, well-connected people who were born into privilege. Some have been mentored by industry or political power brokers. Some have just insinuated themselves into and among high level connections that provide a continual flow of capital, opportunity, career moves, or access to the right resources. Still others have parlayed family members or legacies, or offspring of the wealthy, into situational success. At the same time, the above examples of apparent access to money, power, or higher levels of achievers were really accomplished by connections to the “right” people. The central tenet is still about relationships. My supposition is merely that, at some time, everyone needs help from someone. Starting with clubs or sports as kids, people begin to belong and make friends. There are numerous types of loose or well-structured organizations that proliferate in our personal and business lives.
Margaret Wheatley, a consultant who studies organization behavior, concluded:
Relationships are all there is. Everything in the Universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.
Author Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie), stated: “Build a little community of those you love and who love you. We all need that core community of love. Without it we are either lost, adrift, or without purpose and meaning in our life.” The stronger that love corridor, the easier it is to put yourself out there, and fail.
As a junior and senior in high school, I had been told by a local business person that I would receive a full scholarship to the University of Michigan for basketball and baseball. Looking back on that time, I was never in direct contact with the head coach for either sport. I was relying on the word of a local “scout,” since I did not understand the recruiting process. How naïve of me, or maybe how relatively unimportant I was to Michigan.
The only other school to which I applied (and was accepted) was Dartmouth. My high school football coach and Athletic Director talked briefly to the Dartmouth coach when he visited our high school. Though I played football in high school, I was not planning to play that sport in college. He knew I also played basketball and baseball, so he emphasized the academics and the fact that I could play these other sports.
I made a recruiting trip to Dartmouth with my parents. What a stark difference in athletic emphasis and facilities between the two schools (Big 10 and Ivy League), to say nothing of the talent disparity.
When I was sent a letter by Michigan’s basketball coach and asked to walk-on (not granted an athletic scholarship), I was extremely disappointed. My entire life’s focus and athletic dreams had included playing at The University of Michigan. The Ivy League, which included Dartmouth, did not (nor does it today) provide athletic scholarships. I was granted a student loan to Dartmouth, which allowed me to matriculate there.
How did that setback or failure turn out? It wasn’t all bad. I played both sports at Dartmouth, earning All-Ivy honors for three years in basketball. And, I got an excellent education.
Whenever I have been forced to take a new or different path, I have made it work. But not without “falling down” on occasion, or struggling financially. Remember why I created the networking organization. I was forced to figure out how to survive and build a business, unlike any of my other past experiences.
“I lack the experience to talk with or share anything with most of the people I meet. They will not pay attention to me.”
As PNG was growing slowly throughout the 1990’s, there was some thought to attracting younger professionals with great upside potential. But the older pros were resistant, wanting to keep the community serving their needs. The strong younger ones persisted; a few even became group leaders. It is at this level, group leader (GL), that you are accorded an elevated level of respect. You not only decide which persons can join your group, but how the meetings will be conducted (given the basic framework within which all groups operate).
ProVisors has adapted well to accommodate all types of professionals, including many in their ’30s and even late ’20s. The pressure is on these younger members to deliver ideas, connections, and referrals. So long as they share first or pay it forward, age differentials disappear. In fact, many groups target younger people, attempting to create a more energetic, fresh communication.
Obviously, you are never too young or too old to begin networking. Parents should encourage their children to build relations and friendships very early and often in life. As you find your passion/occupational path, you may want to reach back and out to these prior connections. When I left ADLV in 1987, I had no more than 6 names in my Rolodex. From that paltry number, I contacted a senior person at KPMG. He was kind enough to hire us for one of his clients, a valuation engagement that was large enough to carry our firm for several months. But no one should be in that desperate a strait. I was very fortunate for the great business jumpstart. I will never be in that dire position again, nor should you.
What else can you do as a younger professional or executive? Most importantly, get out of the office. Even if your primary job is not to generate business, will anyone in your firm turn down a good assignment that you originate?
Here are a few ways to start branding yourself, even as a younger person:
I have experienced good to awful (painful, in fact) “partnerships.” Spanning my business career, I have started five firms, bought one, and sold four. That leaves two companies that I continue to own and operate. Most of us need to work cooperatively with others, in our firm or outside. The least successful of my ventures were those whereby my reliance on others to deliver their promised output did not match my expectations.
“I have no desire or need to network. I am busy enough.”
I wonder how many people who said that before 2008 can say the same thing today. For the vast majority of professionals I know, there is a new normal of activity. The hectic pace of work from 2003 to 2008 has been replaced with periods of less demanding workloads, punctuated only periodically by high activity reminiscent of that five year period.
I also think that those who go to lengths to avoid meeting with others outside your firm are just more reclusive. If you never have to worry about your next engagement or where you need to spend your work time, you are blessed.
However, you are also missing the opportunities to learn vital and current information from others, often useful to your clients and/or other executives in your firm. And, you are not taking advantage of the personal growth which occurs each time you interact and refine your message or brand. These interactions are constructive in terms of furthering your career and your connections with key persons in your “space,” industry, or the community at large. Reframing an old adage: “Never turn away a potential gift-horse in the anticipation that it is a Trojan horse.”
“The quality of my work sells itself. I will always have clients come to me based on my professionalism.”
They may, and they may not. Clients are more fickle these days, requiring more attention, positive reinforcement, and some fee concessions. Since 2008, in most professions there is increased scrutiny of our services and fees. The downward fee compression is particularly vexing, since the financial, accounting, and tax standards for quality and work product are much more stringent.
The best way to ensure a steady stream of prospects and repeat clients is to perform to the utmost of your ability and standards. That is axiomatic. However, without our at least highlighting the benefits of our work, some clients will never know how well we performed. You can be a major “megaphone” for other professionals simply by reinforcing the high quality of their service to common clients, prospects, or referral sources. A complement from a respected person usually carries more clout than self-proclamation. •
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