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Posted: August 19, 2011

Six great ways to make networking work

It's about building relationships, not collecting business cards

David P. Mead

There have been many articles written about networking - especially during this economic downturn. In recent weeks, I've read that you should join an executive golf networking group, connect with anyone who asks on LinkedIn, you shouldn't spend time with the same people, etc.

Brad Feld recently wrote about the disturbing trend to transactional encounters rather than relationships. I am not sure if the trend to transactional reflects a need for immediate gratification, is a sign of desperation, or if people just didn't listen to lessons their mother taught them.

The truth is, there is no easy path to developing a meaningful network. It's not about collecting business cards or golfing partners or meeting as many people as you can. It's about building relationships. In the current social networking world, some people seem intent to "friend" everyone and feel that the moment they meet you, they are "entitled" to tap into your network.

The following are some observations I've made over the years about building relationships:

1. Be a giver not a taker
Make deposits before withdrawals. Nothing turns people off faster than someone who gives you a download of their needs with little or no regards for yours. Take the time to understand the other person's needs. Seek to help them first.

Help people. One very successful investment banker has made it a point to know all of the leading surgeons and researchers in the medical field so that he could help the families of colleagues in his network. Another person helps find jobs and internships for children of colleagues and friends.

2. Go deep
Get involved with organizations and make a difference. People will make decisions about you based on how you engage with not for profit and community organizations. If you get involved and make a difference, people will take notice. If you merely distribute cards and look for introductions, they will notice that as well. We have made it a point to participate in organizations where we can get things accomplished and use our skills to advance the organization's vision and mission. Our consulting firm is all about execution and getting results for clients - people do notice that we do the same thing within the community. Want people to see you as dependable, creative, a leader? Superficial "fly-by" participation will not do it.

3. Deliver on your promises
If you say you'll do something for someone, make sure you follow-through. People want to build relationships with people who are dependable.

4. Do it for the right reasons
Some people call it creating good karma, others say it's doing the right thing. The key is that if you go out of your way to help others -it will come back. Perhaps not today or tomorrow, but it will come back.

5. Say thank you
Your mother taught you always to say thank you when someone helps you. People want to know that were helpful and that you appreciate their efforts.

6. Stay visible
Many folks in transition are visible in the community only as long as it takes to find the next job. It is likely you will need to network again in your lifetime. Create a positive lasting impression. Otherwise, why would someone ever want to help you again?
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David Mead is President of The Mead Consulting Group, a consulting and advisory services firm, based in Englewood, that has been helping Colorado companies grow since 1981. The firm's 40+ senior consultants with operating backgrounds assist Colorado-headquartered companies with strategic growth and execution, improving profitability and cash flow and maximizing value at exit. Dave is the past Chairman of ACG Denver and a long-time Board member and is on the Board of Young Americans Bank. Contact Dave at: meaddp@MeadConsultingGroup.com or (303) 660-8135.

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Readers Respond

Roseanne, You raise a very good point. People watch what others do in non-profits and community service organizations and will make judgments about you and your firm based on how you deliver in the non-profit sector. I am always amazed at the carryover. By Dave Mead on 2011 08 22
John, You are absolutely right that people are at a distinct disadvantage if they have not proactively built a network of relationships and then suddenly find themselves unemployed. "Buying a network" is a dangerous proposition if you're only in it until the next job. People have long memories.Better to commit yourself to finding ways to invest in beginning to build long-term relationships. It's never too late to start. By Dave Mead on 2011 08 22
David, this is a great article and reminder of what matters most when building a network. All of the observations are spot on, especially the one about getting involved with organizations and making a difference. As a 23 year Rotarian, it becomes readily apparent which members do a "superficial fly-by" and which ones participate and live up to their commitments. If I am looking for goods and services for myself or my business, what better place to see if someone lives up to their promises than a service club or non-profit organization. Thanks. By Rosanne Gain on 2011 08 20
David, I could not agree with you more. The way to get ahead in life is to help others get ahead. This article was a fresh reminder to me that giving, not getting, is what makes for a successful and satisfying career and life. Michael By Michael Haley on 2011 08 20
Great article, David. These are great tips for building a network long-term, and should be followed by everyone who wants to do so. The challenge for those newly in transition is that few of them have taken the time to build a network like this, and they need to build one rapidly enough to become re-employed before the next Ice Age or Global Meltdown, whichever comes first. For this, I recommend getting involved with an existing network (buying a network, so to speak), rapidly building LinkedIn, and hitting the networking meetings with some goals in mind. I certainly agree that selfishness is never attractive...but someone newly unemployed may not have lots to offer, and may, indeed, be in the role of a supplicant. Once that network is built, however, growing and maintaining that network over the long term, so people never find themselves "out there" without a network again, is essential...and should be done exactly the way you suggest. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 08 19
To understand how to make "networking" effective it is, in my opinion, necessary to understand the science behind networking. There is a science and it is as much a science as Euclidian geometry. Read Linked: The New Science of Networks, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. Network effectiveness is dependent upon differentiating nodes and utilizing links to connect. The objective is to become a hub. With a hub comes power, reflected in the power distribution curve. In the world of mathematics opinions and experiences may be only indicative of the correct path to effective use of the tool. They may also be completely incorrect. Understand the science. By Michael Canon on 2011 08 19

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