We all network for different reasons. And the good news is there is no right or wrong reason to network, as long as you understand what networking is, and what it is not. Effective networking is a way of life, not a sporadic strategy that is only followed when you have a specific or urgent need.
Think of it like dieting. People usually diet when they want to lose weight quickly – like for a wedding or reunion – and while they might succeed, the results are most often temporary. If, however, someone who wants to lose weight makes healthy eating and exercise a lifestyle, the results are far more likely to last. By the same token, someone who only networks when they need new clients or are trying to find a new job will not enjoy long-term success.
When you think of networking in the proper context, it is much easier to integrate it into your professional life. So I suggest you keep this in mind:
- A verb. It is an active, ongoing pursuit requiring commitment.
- A process. The results are not immediate; it will take time and consistency for you to achieve your networking goals.
- A two-way street. It is a give-and-take relationship, and you must be willing to help people and organizations as much, if not more, than they help you.
- Appropriate and necessary for every type and level of professional at all stages of their career.
- An opportunity to change your career or change your life.
- A lot of work, and also a lot of fun.
Networking is NOT:
- A noun. While it is valuable to have a database of contacts, it is what you do with those contacts that counts.
- An occasional activity. It must be a part of your routine to be effective.
- Cold calling or sales. Real relationships cannot be built by phone or social media exclusively, especially if they are one-sided. This does not mean that you cannot sell to people in your network; you just have to know the difference between selling and relationship building.
- Schmoozing or working a room. While you can utilize events for excellent networking opportunities, this is just one small piece of the puzzle.
- A guarantee to improve your professional or personal success. It is a way to set yourself apart and give you many advantages.
- Rocket science. Anyone can improve their ability to build strong relationships through networking.