In my previous article, I spoke about not taking some things for granted concerning networking. In this piece I will use it as a continuation and highlight specific elements that will enable you to use practical methods to improve your networking abilities.
Before is begin, I will insist and say it first here and will most likely repeat it towards the end…
A good network is created, and networking succeeds, by the application of hard work. A network without the hard work produces nothing worthwhile.
As you do read this article however, please ask yourself what it is you hope to gain from your network.
Many times we call upon our network only when we are in a fix and NEED some form of assistance that somehow we have failed to handle as it is beyond us. Because of this, we seem to be seen as selfish and needy for the most part. This shall need to come out deeply for you to truly work well through your network.
Also, it should be known that more often than not, your network is truly your networth as clearly put by Porter Gale in her book titled “Your Network Is Your Net Worth: Unlock the Hidden Power of Connections for Wealth, Success, and Happiness in the Digital Age”. We can see this at the point in time a new baby is born into a family… the love it brings and how sadness engulfs a home and a community when somebody passes on.
A few simple changes in your day-to-day habits can help you keep your current network close and create time for new connections too. People are key to both you and your company’s success and that inevitably means taking the time to network, build and above all maintain relationships. The tough question however to ask and answer is;
“With such limited time, how can you manage to keep meeting existing contacts close and meet new people and STILL get work done?”
We all have 24 hours in a day and sometimes they feel too few and other times they feel too many! It is possible to answer the question above and you can do this by asking yourself one simpler question… “What is one simple thing I can do quickly to refresh my network and make new connections?”
These are a few practical techniques to improve your networking abilities and above all what you hope to gain from not taking networking for granted.
It is advisable to understand what you it is you want to achieve, ascertain the contacts you need to achieve them and where and how you can reach your contacts.
1. Reach out to Friends
One really interesting way of refreshing my network is to reach out to my friends outside of my industry. It’s fun to interact with my friends who are not in economics, corporate finance, and management consultancy and learn new things that inspire me or I can bring into my business. There are so many other great ways of doing thing and learning from them is very inspiring from people of all walks of life and particularly those that fit in your vision
2. Reconnect with past contacts of interest
It’s too easy to get caught up in creating new networks and connections, and forget the people who supported you in the beginning. I recommend taking a step back and reconnecting with people you haven’t talked to in a while. Networks change significantly even in a short period of time, so reach out and catch up.
3. Have coffee once a week/month with your industry peers
Yeah, so you work in the newly created National Roads Authority and your civil engineering masters classmates work at ROKO, CIVICON two of them recently joined the civil service as District Engineers and the other moved into Project Management in Rwanda. Go ahead and make some time for them this month maybe for a coffee or even a lunch arrangement and share and compare notes about the industry. You can surely learn a thing or two that will add value. The discussion will be some work and some personal, but most importantly it’s a break for you to focus on something other than what’s going on in our business and work
4. Do on favour for a person in your network each every week/ month
Beyond meeting other people via networking events and the like, I consider making an effort to reach out to at least one contact in your network per week and see how you can help this person. You’ll spend time strengthening your current network, will get some perspective on problems which may impact your business, and be well-positioned to have folks think of ways they can help you. This is quite innovative and if done better than others can improve your trust levels greatly.
5. Make helpful introductions
The best way to maintain valuable relationships is to show people that you are valuable to them. Introducing two people who can help each other can be extremely valuable to everyone involved. It also makes it easier to ask for relevant introductions in the future. Be careful though–you want to check with both people BEFORE making the introduction, as otherwise it might be a burden.
6. Attend an event in the industries of interest
To get back into the world and rebuild connections after being hunkered down within the walls of work and growing a company, go to a quality industry conference. You will meet great people who can help you expand your capabilities and pick up on new trends and opportunities. The Institute of Certified Professional Accountants has an annual event that is every aspiring and already qualified CPA/ should attend to stay within the networks.
7. Delegate tasks to make time for you to communicate with key contacts
Network maintenance requires more time and energy than many people think. Attending events and getting business cards is only the beginning. I would suggest delegating time-consuming daily tasks so that you have time to cater to your clients and seek out new ones. This is important because having strong relationships with clients will ultimately keep you in business.
8. Just ask
I never cease to be amazed at the connections I can make by just asking, and by how open people are–especially other entrepreneurs. Try to attend at least one meet-up a month as well as meet with people already in your network at least weekly. Tell them you’re looking for introductions in your target industry, and you’ll have a regular stream of new contacts in no time. And remember to pay it forward! That is how I had an interesting session with one of the Board-Gurus of our time>> Dr. Martin Aliker. I just asked for his number, called him and explained my case and we met. It is not as hard as people make it out to be.
9. Schedule one or two nights a month for a cocktail event
These may sometimes seem like you are schmoozing and feel out of place. But usually you meet somebody you know who somehow have not seen in a little while and it is another opportunity to interact with movers and shakers in the world as well as learning more about other business opportunities.
10. Take advantage of social media
Try posting on social media what you learned while working hard on your business. This can be a great way for you to get content shared while also having new people to converse with. Just make sure you provide a way for others to benefit from your hard work in the form of lessons that are applicable to your target readership. My friend and entrepreneur Dickson Mushabe does that more often than most and he has explained how this has helped drive business his direction.
1. Endeavour to attend a family event and ask about how and what others are doing
Family should not be an accident. We can always insist and make sure we keep in touch as family is core to your well-being.
2. Attempt to follow up your old boy/ old girls networks
You will always be surprised at how an old acquaintance can be of help just because you remembered the name of the science teacher who used to tell stale jokes.
3. Never eat lunch alone more than thrice a week
We usually use lunch hour to take a break from the hustle & bustle of daily work-life. Eventually though, having a lunch plan with either number 1 or 2 above will allow you to improve and somewhat maintain your network
4. Do pro-bono/ volunteer work when you can
For us in professional services, it is encouraged to share your skills and experience to the neediest of clients at an almost nominal fee. This should be done with a view to add value completely.
As much as writing and reading this makes you/ me feel like I can become an excellent networker, it should be known that even after realizing the need and suggesting practical tips on how to improve my network and networking, it is much easier said than done.
It can be achieved however and at your own pace; you cannot be the pope to know 20+ languages; you may not be that excellent at remembering everyone’s name and where they work; you may not be good at small-talk…
But you will need to keep in touch, both socially and professionally.
By Edmund Kamugisha
Edmund is the Engagement Director at BLEGSCOPE®, and has 10+ years of management consultancy experience notably in MSMEs, FMCG companies and in the service industry. You can follow him on twitter: @edmokmg