On April 18, 1775, a Boston boy overheard a conversation between two British soldiers that there would be “hell to pay tomorrow.” Immediately, he ran to Paul Revere, a silversmith, with the news. Revere knew the British soldiers were up to something, he also knew he must warn the people in the surrounding towns and villages to be ready to counter the attack being planned. So, he decided to act. At 10pm, he set out on his horse. To cover the whole province, he enlisted the help of a friend, William Dawes, to join in disseminating the information. The duo agreed that while Revere would head for the north and west of Boston, Dawes would head west towards Lexington.
However, the two had different results for their efforts. The response to Revere’s message was instant and the people mobilized and organized themselves so well that by the time the British arrived the following morning, they met a well organized and coordinated resistance. The fierce battle was the opening glee of the American Revolutionary War. But the response to Dawes’ message was so cold that it was assumed by many that the region was pro-British, though it was not.
The difference in the results of the two was in their networking ability.
Revere was a well-connected social networker. In every town and village, he knew who to speak with for maximum effect. He was known by those he relayed the information to, and they treated the information given by him with the desired seriousness. They immediately sprang into action and were ready for the British onslaught. But Dawes, not being so socially connected, was not known by those he was speaking with. So, rather than take his message seriously, they took it with a pinch of salt and did nothing about the information.
Though both Revere and Dawes risked their lives and liberty to get the people prepared for the British attack, the credit for that bravery went to Revere because of his network ability.
Relationship is a critical success factor in business. The reason is that most people are at ease doing business with those they know, trust and like more than those they do not have any relationship with. Since success in business is largely a function of the volume of patronage enjoyed by the business, leaders deliberately initiate and cultivate relationships that can bolster their businesses.
Networking provides leaders the opportunity to expand their scope of influence and extend their reach. By building relationship with people within and outside their immediate environment, they increase their chances of succeeding because, in the final analysis, it is not who you know that is important but who knows you. Those who have a network of contacts stand a better chance than those who operate alone. According to some experts, the net worth of an individual is the mean of the value of his network. In other words, the quantity and quality of the people known by an individual plays a significant role in the determination of his worth.
The value of a network is not determined by the number of a people an individual knows but the number of those who know him. This, in essence, means it is not enough to meet with a person or to belong to the same group as another person, what makes networking work is to be well known by the other person. As noted earlier, many people have preference for doing business with those they know and can trust. This is where cultivating relationships comes in. Cultivating a relationship goes beyond the level of casual acquaintanceship; it must be nurtured into a strong bonding. It is then that the benefits begin to manifest. So, it is when the individual is known well enough by the other person to the point that he can vouch for him that the networking begins to yield dividends. It is then that networking becomes a social capital.
Types of networking
Experts have identified three categories of networking. These are personal, operational and strategic.
This consists of people either within or outside the workplace who can help an individual to acquire the skills and leverage required to climb the career ladder. This group of people provides mentoring and coaching. They sometimes offer referrals and other opportunities for development. A personal network contact can be a good sounding board for ideas by an individual before they are introduced at the workplace. The responsibility of personal networking contacts is to groom and grow the individual. But more often than not, it is the individual that seeks such support that has to make the move and convince the would-be mentors that he knows what he wants and that he is not just out to take advantage of them.
But the sad truth is that many people do not utilize the opportunity offered by this group of people. It is easier to see farther than your peers and colleagues when you stand on the shoulders of giants. Trying to reinvent the wheel makes progress tedious and cumbersome. There is absolutely no area of endeavour where some people have not already made their marks. So, instead of trudging through the mill, it is better to seek counsel from those who have already gone through the path. In order to have an easier ride to career or business success, developing a network of contacts that can show the way is a good idea. To operate without a mentor is to subject yourself to avoidable and unnecessary torture.
This is the group of people that an individual needs to achieve his operational target. These are basically colleagues who may be superiors, subordinates or contemporaries. They are people whose inputs contribute to the overall output of an individual. The tendency is to want to take these people for granted because their responsibilities are fully spelt out. But maintaining a good relationship with them would facilitate success. The general trend is that most people will not want those they appreciate to fail at whatever tasks they are assigned. This is where it is important to develop a strong relationship with colleagues. The law of reciprocity says that a good turn deserves another. Being kind to colleagues, showing them that their concern is your concern has its recompense. The recompense is that they will make it their business to have your back. In the same vein, being an island in the workplace will not go unrewarded; when there are issues the loaner will be all alone to stew in his juice.
In strategic networking, the individual initiates relationships with people within and outside the organization who can facilitate achievement of corporate goals. While personal network contacts help to groom the individual to acquire necessary professional as well as social skills and operational networking makes it possible for the individual to achieve routine operational targets, strategic networking is targeted at helping the individual to achieve organizational objectives. Strategic networking is critical because its essence is for the accomplishment of organizational goals such as expanding the market or increasing sales figure.
It is often said that whatever an individual wants to achieve can become a reality if he knows the people that can facilitate it. What smart leaders do is to determine what they need to achieve their corporate objectives and find out those with the ability to make it happen. The next stage is either to link up with those people directly or connect with those who have their contacts. It is not something that happens automatically; it has to be made to happen. That is why it is strategic.
Creating a network
Creating a network is hard work. Unfortunately, much of the work cannot be delegated, at least at the onset. But those who are determined to build a network will not mind the work. Building a network is done through some of the activities stated hereunder.
Start with a vision
If the purpose of a thing is not known, its abuse becomes inevitable. So, the starting point of building a network is defining the rationale. Once the basis for the networking is determined, all other things will fall in place. The individual must be able to establish in advance why he wants to establish the network and what he hopes to get at the end. This will be a guide to him.
Go out of your comfort zone
Some people enjoy their own company, so they seldom go out of their comfort zones. But that will not work with networking. If all the people you connect with are those within your area, you will get no new contacts and consequently add no new value to yourself. The best thing is to make a deliberate effort to find new areas. These could be in form of trade associations, professional groups, social clubs etc. The more you do it, the better you become at it.
You never have a second chance of making the first impression. So, you need to be prepared when you go out for networking. You need to leave a positive impression on your contact. That is what will lubricate the relationship. If you present yourself as a likeable individual, the probability is that the other party will want the relationship to blossom.
Take time to develop relationships
Networking is about relationships; it is about becoming a buddy. It would be difficult for anyone who is too frigid or stiff to win the trust of others; and networking thrives on trust. It is when the other party trusts you that he can take you into confidence and probably open up on opportunities which can turn the tide in your favour.
Be willing to offer something
Many people get stuck when networking because they are all out to make a gain immediately from the contact but that could be counter-productive. It is always better to be the first to offer help. That puts the other party in your debt. One law that never fails in networking is that of reciprocity. The fellow that got a good turn always wants to return it at the earliest opportunity.
Never fail to ask
If you need help from your contacts, ask. More often than not, those in your network are willing to render help because of the law of reciprocity. So, if you are in need and you fail to ask for help, not only will you be shortchanging yourself, you may also be robbing your contact the opportunity to benefit from you as he may not want to be the one always asking from you.
Networking faux pas to avoid
Meeting a person once is not a guarantee that they will want a repeat of the experience. It is for that reason that anyone who wants to build a network should avoid some mistakes.
Poor social skills
If the networking is not with a would-be mentor, it is vital that the individual should pay good attention to his social skills. Many of the targets for strategic networking already have a level of reputation they will want to protect. Therefore, they will not want to associate with anyone who may tar this. So, to avoid killing the networking before its take-off, ensure that you don’t portray yourself as a clumsy individual.
Waiting for the other party to get across first
Sometimes you want to create an air of importance by waiting for the other party to follow up on you after the initial meeting. That does not always work. Do not wait for him to get across; make the first move because networking relationship does not happen by happenstance; it has to be nurtured.
Not being genuinely interested in others
Never forget that networking is not just about you or your needs, it is also about others and their needs. So, instead of excessively talking about yourself and what you do, let the other person also talk about himself and listen when he does. Never give the other person the impression that you want the relationship just for you. If he should sense that, he will believe that you are out to use him and he may recoil.
Being without your card
Complimentary card exchange is part of the networking ritual. So, if you meet somebody for the first time without your card on you, the message you are putting across is that the person is not important to you. The worst part of it is that if he is somebody of note he will never forget that. As pointed out earlier, you never have a second chance of making the first impression. So, always be prepared.
Those who connect well with others always have an edge over those who do not.