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My 5 golden rules of networking: Rule #1 — if you want to succeed (in anything), you MUST network

Categories: Career Talk, Working Women Issues, Your life


women-shaking-hands.jpgI know, you’re thinking “OK, Nataly, why don’t you tell us how you really feel about networking?”

But in all seriousness, I feel that networking is a task that we — and yes, by this huge generalization, I mean we = women — overlook most often and don’t do enough of in our careers, businesses, and life in general. I know this from my personal experiences and from those of my female colleagues and friends. I am sure there are plenty of reasons for it, but this post isn’t about that. It is about what I’ve learned about networking and my desire to encourage you to make it a regular part of our routine, whatever your career or business might be. Believe me when I say it’s really good for you.

My 5 golden rules of networking:

Rule #1: If you want to succeed in your business, your career, or your life, you MUST network.

My first job out of college was for a huge consulting firm famous for the way it invested in training its business analysts. They put us through tons of training — financial analysis, client management, presentation skills, and much more — but we were never taught about networking. My next job was in strategy for a small company, where I had a great boss who taught me about business, running companies, and sales and marketing — but I don’t remember him saying anything about networking. When I took a job in venture capital my boss told me that to find new deals I had to network, but that was it. In my 10+ year career, no-one ever taught me about networking but I so much wish someone had.

I learned the importance of networking only when I decided to start my own company (Work It, Mom!, of course). My partner, Victoria, and I were introduced by someone I worked with and after a year of business lunches we decided to start a company together. When it came time to find our great team of bloggers, I started reaching out to several whose personal blogs I liked and always asked if there were others they’d recommend. I have a great group of extremely sharp and experienced people to whom I go for advice about growing my own company and I’ve met them all through networking. Networking means connecting with people, creating relationships, and expanding the circle of people to whom you can go for advice, support, career direction, job leads, and answers to specific questions. I don’t know a single person successful person who doesn’t make networking part of their daily life.

Rule #2: The best time to network is when you don’t need anything.

I often hear people talk about needing to network for a new job or to raise money for their business. That’s fine but the best time to network is when you don’t need a new job or money for your business but when you just want to connect with different people and expand your circle of contacts and career/business relationships. I am going to go out on a ledge here (mostly because well, I haven’t dated in about 11 years!) and say it’s like dating — the less desperate you are the more likely you are to find a great guy (or gal!).

A few years into my venture capital gig I was on a panel with a few other investors. I really liked what one of them was saying so after the panel I came up to him and introduced myself. A few days later I emailed him and suggested that we get together for lunch and talk about deals we’re seeing. We did and fast-forward three years later, we’re now good professional friends and he is someone I go to for input and advice about growing a company. He has also introduced me to some great people and I am pretty sure that if I ever needed a job, he would help me.

Rule #3: Networking is like stock investing — you have to have a long-term view instead of seeking short-term benefits.

Something I do pretty regularly is reach out to reporter and bloggers who write on topics related to working women and careers. I send them a brief email introducing myself and Work It, Mom!, explaining a bit about what we do here, and asking them to share any input or feedback they might have as well as contribute to our community. I haven’t kept exact numbers, but I’d say about 50% of my emails get answered and about 20% result in my connecting on the phone with the particular reporter or blogger to talk about what they are doing and how we could work together.

Several months back I reached out to Dory Devlin, who was writing for Yahoo about technology and family. She replied, we scheduled a call, and had a lovely conversation. We kept in touch over the following months and then Dory became the editor for Yahoo’s new site for women called Shine. She edits the Work and Money area and has kindly linked to one of my blog posts already and has plans to feature more content from Work It, Mom!. This wasn’t even a possibility when we first talked and I never asked Dory to feature us or write about us. I networked, I created a professional relationship, and Work It, Mom! is (hopefully!) going to benefit with some links and traffic from a big new site.

Don’t have an agenda when you start to network with someone other than connecting with them and talking about what you might have in common. You’re creating a relationship, not putting in an order at a restaurant. (I need to stop with the analogies, I know.)

Rule #4: To be great at networking you need to offer more than you ask for.

This is one of the most important things I’ve learned about networking and I can’t emphasize it enough. To be really great at networking, to have great connections, people to whom you can go for help and advice, you need to offer more to them than you get from them. Do you know someone they will benefit from knowing? Ask if they’d like an introduction. Do you know of a great resource or see an article that might be of interest? Send them the link. Do you have an idea to help someone with their business, career, or life issue? Take the initiative and share your thoughts. Be proactive about offering help and suggestions without being overbearing with your point of view.

I’ve recently met a wonderful woman who is starting a company. I love the concept for it and have had a few ideas/suggestions/resources that I’ve suggested to her since we first met. I’ve also introduced her to one of my mentors because I believe they will like meeting each other. I don’t get anything in return and I don’t expect anything in return — but she has followed up with some great suggestions for me and for Work It, Mom! and has become someone I really enjoy talking with and bouncing off ideas about our businesses. Offer more than what you ask for and you might get so much in return.

Rule #5: If you think you’re too shy/too reserved/too intimidated to network, you’re wrong.

I think one of the most common misconceptions about networking is that you have to be outgoing to do it. I often see tips to help you overcome your shyness when you’re at a party or a conference and you need to come up to strangers and strike up a conversation. That’s all good and well, but only a tiny bit of networking involves approaching strangers in a social setting.

More often, you meet people through work or common contacts and networking is about following up with them and being proactive about creating a professional relationship rather than approaching them out of the blue. A lot of initial networking is often done via email, which is a lot easier as a communication medium if you tend to be on the reserved side.

I think some of the intimidation networking causes is because of the word itself –but think of it as just connecting with people who have something in common with you. Emailing a colleague from a different department or someone you met at a conference to connect over a business lunch isn’t much different than inviting a mom you met at a playground for a playdate. (And if you find that intimidating, I think you should just grow up.)

Do you network actively or is this something you find intimidating? Has networking helped your career or business? Do you have any other tips for networking? Sound off in the comments!

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15 comments so far...

  • I am a Mompreneur too! I created detailed meal plans that were designed to increase the likelihood of conceiving a baby with the gender of one’s preferred choice. etworking is fun, but it is a lot of work! t is easy tolose track, thanks for the article I needed the reminder :) I found that WAHM business’s and bloggers have been a wonderful resource for networking my business.

    nancy  |  April 1st, 2008 at 7:24 am

  • I loved this. Really something I needed to read today. Thanks.

    Sister Honey Bunch  |  April 1st, 2008 at 7:55 am

  • THANK YOU! not only was this fun to read, but i will USE this information!!!!
    I think we have all had it firmly pounded into our heads that networking is essential. However, like you said, no one ever tells you HOW or what types of things ‘count’ as networking. So many of the things you mentioned we (ok me) probably do without thinking and can now do them with purpose and with the intention of networking. I have actually shied away from reaching out at times because I felt like I didn’t have something to offer. You really helped bring networking into focus for me (analogies and all!)

    Kate  |  April 1st, 2008 at 9:04 am

  • Wow. I was reading along, acknowledging your points and then got smacked in the face by that last parenthetical sentance. When I was in a position to meet other moms at the playground (my kids are 14 and 10 now, so we don’t exactly spend a lot of time at the plaground any more) I would have found it intimidating to invite that mom over. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t a grown up. It means I was (and I still am) a bit of an introvert.

    I don’t network actively. However, over the ten years I have spent in my field I would certainly say that the networking I have done has helped move my career forward. New opportunities have always come my way because relationships I have maintained. I still consistantly struggle to overcome my personal shyness. I hate cold calls, or cold emails for that matter, and often feel like I have nothing to say in work-social situations, such as a conference. Some of the time, I am stubborn enough to force myself past the awkwardness, and am generally rewarded. It continues to be a conscious effort.

    Three things that have worked for me: First, adopting a “just fake it” approach where I act like I am comfortable and confident striking up a conversation even though my palms are sweaty. Second, looking for some tidbit we have in common to start from, even if it’s just the fact that we standing in line to sign in and it’s taking forever. Finally, being a good listener when someone else starts talking; half of a relationship is being on the listening side. Active and responsive listening is even better.

    Gwen  |  April 1st, 2008 at 9:28 am

  • This was a great post Nataly- I am learning more and more about how amazing networking can be when it is done right. I think number 4 is the true key. Giving without expecting anything in return builds true relationships.

    Meri  |  April 1st, 2008 at 9:58 am

  • Thanks for this. Networking is still troublesome for me, and I need these reminders sometimes.

    Florinda  |  April 1st, 2008 at 12:38 pm

  • Wow, these are great tips! I know networking is important but I often forget about doing it. You are an awesome networker.

    Susan  |  April 1st, 2008 at 1:34 pm

  • This is just what I needed to read today. I too have realized how important networking is to my success only when I started my website.

    I am trying to get better at it. I would never approach someone in the past but now I say to myself “what’s the worst that can happen?’.

    Thanks for the post!

    momof2lovelies  |  April 1st, 2008 at 7:46 pm

  • Truly excellent advice. I especially like the part about thinking long-term. Too often, I am quick to turn down an invitation to a networking event because I’m too tired, too busy, or whatever. This is a good reminder that I should go. Thanks for sharing.

    ashley  |  April 1st, 2008 at 10:23 pm

  • Nataly,
    This is a great compilation. As a career coach and entrepreneur, I constantly teach about networking and follow my own advice. In fact, I “found” you through your online networking, via Penelope Trunk’s blog.

    Your point that networking is about helping each other (give first before you hope to get) is so important. I do a lot of networking online with other professionals and entrepreneurs in the career industry. I had a recent experience of someone going in for the “kill” - trying to ask me for something before we had established a rapport. Had he done a “networking dance” first, I would be much more free with contacts and resources. Don’t network like a bull in a china shop!

    Another point to consider is that there are a lot of ways to network. Leverage your “social” network online as well as your in-person circle. One of my recent blogs suggests the counter-intuitive advice to “talk to people you DON’T think will be good contacts.” In my experience, they often turn out to be the best resources!

    I’m enjoying participating in the WIM community. Thanks!

    Miriam Salpeter
    Keppie Careers

    Miriam Salpeter  |  April 3rd, 2008 at 2:44 pm

  • Nataly, wonderful post! So many of us are intimidated by networking–and I think it’s because the popular images of networking do it such a disservice. As you point out, the key is to get out there and interact, building relationships–which are social capital, because those connections can provide resources.

    One of the key points to remember is that networking isn’t just for business; your network includes everyone you know, in any walk of life. So we network at the playground, building the personal side of a network, just as we network in a professional association to build the business side.

    Jeanne  |  April 3rd, 2008 at 7:30 pm

  • Fantastic article!
    I network constantly.
    I go to approx 3 events per week for my job. it has opened up a new world of opportunities for me and I have met fantastic women and men.
    I try to convince my friends to network at least once a month, and they just arent up for it, I enjoy meeting new people, learning additional aspects of my business arena and also going out once a week!

    debr  |  April 6th, 2008 at 8:01 am

  • As a true “behind the scenes” person, I do find networking a challenge… This article has many great points. Shy as I am, love your last line!

    BlapherMJ  |  April 9th, 2008 at 9:43 am

  • I heartily agree with your comment that networking = followup. I find networking at events intimidating initially, but the other people are there to network too and once you get rolling it’s actually fun. That said, it’s easy to collect business cards but it takes organization and thoughtfulness to keep in touch and start building a relationship from a contact.

    Sheri Larsen  |  October 21st, 2008 at 3:17 pm

  • love and agree with your comments. I am puzzled by the lack of followup that occurs after networking and the amount of unreturned phone calls when I am attempting to do business with someone

    terry  |  December 27th, 2008 at 7:52 am

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