What exactly is networking? When asked that question, the first image that comes to mind for most people is probably a networking event where people wearing suits make awkward small talk, and then exchange business cards. In reality, networking is much more complex process that consists of many different parts. Let’s take a moment to deconstruct – reverse-engineer, if you will – the process of networking and identify the key components.
The process of networking can be broken up into two major parts – let’s call them the “foundation” and the “exterior”. The foundation is your networking strategy or, in other words, your plan. The cornerstone of your strategy is your Goal – the one big thing that you’re trying to accomplish. It might be launching a new business venture, or it might be finding a better job, or switching to a completely new career. Whatever your goal is, it can be broken down into a bunch of smaller goals; in turn, each smaller goal is made up of even smaller objectives and tasks. Once you get down to the most granular level, you will find that all you’re left with are people who have influence over each of those goals. No matter you’re what your Goal is, once you deconstruct it you’ll discover that the smallest building block is a person, or a group of people. The global economy can be broken down into industries, which can be reduced to individual companies; companies are comprised of business units and departments. Departments are just organized groups of people that make decisions like funding companies, hiring employees, or purchasing products.
Your networking strategy is the process of identifying those key people who can influence your goals and developing a plan for how to use your resources to engage them. Your resources are the skills, talents, experiences and contacts that you possess; the more resources you have, the better you’re positioned to execute your plan. These resources allow you to develop mutually beneficial relationships that – over time – will help you achieve your goals.
If your networking strategy is the foundation, then the “exterior” level is the implementation. This is where your plan comes into contact with reality – it’s the process of actually carrying out your strategy. You have to create your “story” and your pitch, and then go out and engage people and try to win them over to your side. Whether it’s a networking event, a meeting over coffee, or just a quick email, the execution is all about polish, etiquette and presentation.
Both parts are equally important: you can’t start with a weak foundation and expect to build a quality house. At the same you can’t spend all of your time working on the foundation while neglecting the exterior. The same thing applies to networking: you can have the best plan in the world, but if you have no “people skills”, you won’t be able to execute it. At the same time, you can be very personable, but if you lack a sound strategy, you’re going to waste a lot of time doing things that aren’t moving you any closer to your Goal. Identify your weaknesses, balance your strengths, and your success will be assured.
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