Networking 101: Don’t Use Connections, Utilize Them

The wrong way to network (flickr image by Sean MacEntee)
The wrong way to network (flickr image by Sean MacEntee)

 

One of the most common fears my clients have about reaching out to their network is the fear of using their contacts for personal gain. Perhaps it’s a Midwestern thing, but often people are afraid to ask others for help fearing that we’ll put someone else out. What we often miss is the difference between using our contacts and utilizing them.

Once you’ve made the list of connections and determined where the strength in your network lies, you can build a strategy around reaching out to that network. By building a strategy before calling even the first contact for help, you’re sure to reach people in a manner that is productive and respectful rather than desperate. Approaching your network with a strategy will help you avoid feeling desperate. Here are a few steps to building that strategy.

Be Prepared
Once you’ve identified people who can assist you with your current project ask yourself how they can help you. Do they work for a company you’re interested in? Are they connected to people you would like to know? Do they possess knowledge on a topic that will help you? By understanding this information ahead of time, you will approach your contacts respectfully and avoid looking desperate. Desperate people use their contacts. Respectful, confident people utilize their contacts.

Be upfront and honest about why you’re meeting
There’s nothing worse than someone asking for your time who isn’t willing to tell you why or is vague about why they want your time. Time is one of our most valuable resources in today’s society. By being honest with your contacts about why you want to meet, in addition to being prepared, you’ll demonstrate respect. It might be as simple as sharing that you’re going through some changes professionally and would like their confidential opinion. By saying this upfront the person knows why they’re being asked and can prioritize it accordingly in their day.

Ask how you can help
This part of your strategy should begin long before you ask anyone for help. Build your reputation as someone who’s always willing to help and someone who’s always asking how you can help. By inquiring about how you can benefit someone else you become someone others are willing to help.

People help those who help themselves
Right or wrong this mentality prevails more often than not. People tend to avoid people they see as entitled. Be prepared to share some of the things you’re doing to help yourself and/or your team on the project you’re asking for help on. This will show people you’re being proactive rather than relying on them to do your work for you.

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