The first thing you need is to be able to communicate, and that is two-way communication. People who operate in a 'send only' mode don’t get listened to. You know that we were given two ears and one mouth and should use them in that ratio. People will think you talk a lot of sense if you shut up and listen to them.
This applies to both physical and online networks. Some online networks are choked with people pushing out 'buy my stuff' messages. That isn’t networking. Networking is being interested in the other person.
Perhaps the greatest notion to keep in your head when networking is 'how can I help this person?'
There is a limit to how much you can talk about your kids, the cat and your new car. Sooner or later you have to share some expertise. If you are not selling then you must show your expertise.
Bring informative content to the network and share it freely. Be seen as the source of information on that subject. If you want a ratio, then share nine pieces of information for every one sales message. My Twitter stream has a ratio of 19 to one – but I’m not a millionaire yet.
Networking is a marketing spend so the usual test and measure processes need to be invoked to see if the effort, time and money, is worth the return. It can be difficult to relate sales enquiries to specific marketing activities though. A marketing company in my network was helping to sell some high-value items. They ran an open day and asked visitors how they had heard of the open day: email, advert or flyer. The visitors responded fairly equally across the choices. There hadn’t been a flyer.
Look at the costs, look at the returns and make an informed guess about if the investment is justified. If you find the decision was wrong you can always change it later.
Expectations of what networking can do vary widely, as networks do. This means there are networks best suited to you and your offer, as well as ill-suited networks too.
Review them all, physical and virtual, and do some experiments. You will need networking skills but they are not arduous to acquire. See what the outcomes of your networking are, but give it time. Building relationships with people takes time and regular meeting. You need to plan for a 12-month experiment.
Run your experiments, see what works for you, see what the return on investment looks like and decide.
Don’t decide once and forever though. New networks with innovative approaches are springing up all the time. Don’t be shy – show us your expertise!
Stephen Walker is co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop organisation behaviour to drive greater performance. He has worked for notable organisations such as Corning, De La Rue and Buhler and has been hired to help Philips, Lloyds TSB and a raft of others. He is also a conference speaker and a published author of many articles, with a book soon to be in print, Stephen delivers workshops across the country, and believes it is all about “making people more effective by more appropriate managerial behaviour”. You can follow Stephen on LinkedIn,Twitter,Facebook,YouTube and Blog.