Networking gets a bad rap. If you’ve found yourself rolling your eyes at ‘yet another networking event’, you’re not alone! (I’ve often talked about how networking can make people roll their eyes.)
But we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss networking because when it’s done well, when it’s done with purpose and connection, then it can be a powerful marketing tool.
So, let’s talk a little more about the power of networking. And the importance of taking it from ‘eye roll’ to ‘I’m in’!
What’s wrong with networking?
Before we can talk about the power of networking, we should talk about what’s not working. Because it seems clear that many people believe there is a lot wrong with networking.
Women in my community have told me that networking ‘feels forced’. They feel like ‘everyone is trying to sell you something’. I even heard one woman say, ‘I need a shower after a networking event’.
She’s certainly not the only one. In fact, a Harvard Business School article confirms that networking makes some people feel ‘physically dirty’.
Networking is especially challenging for women. According to research conducted by LinkedIn, women in Australia are 30% less likely than men to have a strong network. This gender network gap puts women at a disadvantage, and disproportionally holds back women.
But interestingly, women are already looking to solve this problem. In fact, women were 32% more likely than men to take courses related to networking on the LinkedIn Learning hub. And that’s because women already know that they benefit from having a close network of trusted female contacts.
Makes sense really doesn’t it. Particularly when we take into account that women tend to build long-term connections through networks based on trust. But there lies the key difference. The networking that is being done today is based around sales. But powerful networking is based around connections.
Let’s look at how to purposefully build those networks for authentic, valuable connection.
Connection is in
The women I know will tend to roll their eyes at a networking event. But when I speak with these same women about a connection event, I get much different responses. I’ve heard ‘that sounds lovely’, and ‘that sounds much less sleazy’ and even a pleased, ‘so I get to meet some cool people?’
It’s time to go beyond networking and build strong and lasting connections with people, don’t you think? Connecting with others is an essential part of personal and professional success, as it allows us to share our ideas, skills and experiences.
Networking for connection
This is not to say that we should disregard networking. We just need to change the focus because the power of networking is in it being an opportunity to connect with others.
Let me tell you about Kelly. Kelly attended a networking event, hoping to make some job-search connections. Despite talking to a lot of people and exchanging business cards, Kelly felt like she was just going through the motions and not making any authentic connections. Haven’t we all felt like this?
After the event, Kelly decided to take a different approach. She began attending smaller, more intimate networking events and connecting with people one-on-one. Through this approach, Kelly made authentic connections and eventually found a job that she was passionate about.
Kelly’s story illustrates that the power of networking no longer lies in the event itself. Its power is that it provides us with the opportunity to connect. Building real connections is the key to networking success.
In this context, Brené Brown’s words make perfect sense:
‘I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.’
Networking with purpose
At the last Business with the Queen virtual networking event I conducted a survey asking the women present whether they believed that they benefited more from networking opportunities that offered a clear purpose or objective. 90% agreed with that statement.
Some of these networking groups with a purpose might be industry specific seminars where you can learn about topics that are relevant to your field or industry. Conferences and trade shows are other great options. Or you might be invited to participated in a roundtable or workshop. In each of these cases you’ll also have the opportunity to meet and connect with other professionals in your area of expertise.
How to build genuine connection
Of course, not every networking event will be designed with a purpose, or to build connection. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do take steps to make that authentic connection yourself.
To build genuine connection at any networking event, I suggest these five steps:
- Be genuinely curious about the other person.
- Ask questions, not to interrogate but to understand.
- Listen to the person in front of you.
- Give before you take. Add value for someone if you can. You might make someone’s day!
- If you make a genuine connection, follow up after the event for another conversation.
These steps have the power to take even the most awkward feeling networking events, to the best connection events.
The power of networking through social media
Social media is a powerful tool for professional networking. And used well, it can help you authentically engage, build connections and expand your network.
In fact, research shows that around 2/3 of social media users use it to stay in touch or reconnect with friends and family. And 91% of users believe that it has the power to connect people generally. Importantly for those of us in business, 78% of consumers are actually looking for brands to use social media to connect with each other.
It’s important that your social media usage is authentic though. You don’t want to blast low value content out to everyone. Instead be thoughtful. Reach out to offer a solution, make a suggestion, share your experience or refer someone on to someone else who may be able to assist.
The power of referrals
Finally, I want to talk about the power of referrals in a networking context. What if I told you that the power of referrals has the ability to change your business and help you get visibility in places that you weren’t even looking? What if I told you that for each person that you networked with, you would get abundance of clients in return? Would it be worth it then? I suspect so!
Remember that making an authentic connection with just one person is absolutely fantastic! That one person can become a loyal fan and may refer many more clients and work to you over the lifetime of your business.
Will you at least try it?
Ready for authentic connection?
If you’re ready to make authentic connections, ask yourself these questions:
- How can I build meaningful connections with people in my network?
- How can I connect with people beyond my current networks?
- Who do I already have in my network who I would like to get to know better?
And if you want to dip your toe in the water of a warm and embracing connection event – come along to our Go Getters day. You’ll meet like-minded women, make some genuine connections and you may even learn something along the way! Plus you’ll get to experience the power of networking the way it should be done!