Posted: April 27, 2009
The art of networking
From youth soccer games to volunteering, build relationships everywhere you goCindy Rold
As I watched a youth soccer game last night, I was reminded of how easy it is to network at children’s sporting events. You can talk to other parents before the game (especially if your child has to be there an hour in advance), during the game (between cheering your child on, of course) or after the game while you’re waiting for your child to gather her gear.
It’s easy to strike up a conversation with the person standing or sitting next to you at a game. It’s easy to continue the conversation and deepen the relationship as you see this person week after week at all the games. It’s easy to continue the relationship after the season has ended. All it takes is the desire to get to know other people and the intention to establish a relationship.
This is networking. Networking is not about going to events, shaking hands and giving business cards to everyone there. It’s about establishing relationships. And what better way to do that than with people you are in contact with on a regular basis?
A friend of mine, Betsy, said her mom embarrassed her when she was young because her mom would talk to anyone and everyone. Betsy has now become her mom. As a result, Betsy has a large network. She’s a tenured law school professor, so she doesn’t need a network in the ways people typically think of needing one – she’s not looking for a job or marketing any products or services – she’s just living her life. Yet she has a large circle of people she can call on for friendship, advice or assistance.
Sometimes people think only sales people or people in marketing need a network. The truth is, we all need one. It’s our connections with other people that make life juicy and interesting. Those connections can also help us in a myriad of ways.
When I returned from South Africa recently with a nasty rash, it was my network that helped me find a dermatologist and a natural health practitioner. When I wrote my book, I relied on my network for ideas, support and inspiration.
When looking for a housecleaner, I called people in my network and asked for recommendations.
And, of course, I rely on my network for numerous business reasons.
What do you rely on your network for? How strong is your network? If your network isn’t as large or as deep as you would like, it’s easy to change just by starting with people you already know and places you already go.
Where do you spend your time currently? What boards or committees are you on? What professional associations do you belong to? Do you go to a place of worship? Where do you volunteer? Do you belong to an organization like Rotary or Kiwanis? And, as we talked about earlier, do you have children in sports or other activities where you see other parents regularly?
Look at your relationships with people in these settings where you already spend time. How well do you know them? If you talk to people but never about business, start asking questions about their work. If you simply nod or smile at people from a distance, make it a point to have a conversation.
If you arrive at meetings just as they start and leave just as they end, go early or stay late and talk to people during those times.
Ben, an attorney client of mine, recently attended an all-day meeting with his clients. During the breaks, he made phone calls, including calls he didn’t have to make, rather than interact with his clients in a casual way. He noticed another attorney spent all of his break time talking to the clients. Ben knew his behavior was unproductive and resolved to change it at the next meeting.
What’s one unproductive behavior you want to change in the way you interact with people, and what will you do to implement that change? The more you become like Betsy and her mom and start talking to people easily and effortlessly, the faster your network will grow in a natural way.
Cindy Rold, JD, is a success coach, professional speaker, and co-author of 99 Networking Nuggets and The Networking Gurus News, a comprehensive monthly list of business networking events in the Denver metro area. She can be reached at 303-734-9776 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at http://www.thenetworkinggurus.com.