You’re thinking about taking the next step in your career and want to test the waters. You reach out to your network and have three job offers by the end of the week.
Better yet, imagine this.
You’re working on a new product, service or company and you would like to speak to one of the most influential voices in your industry. Days later you have not only received their advice, but you’re now friends.
Or, imagine this.
You have so many offers for work, speaking engagements and business opportunities that you are knocking back more proposals than you take. You never have to apply for another job again.
Yes, your network is your most valuable asset.
The problem is, most people do networking all wrong. There is a laundry list of mistakes that people make when it comes to networking:
- They don’t network at all
- They don’t have a networking strategy
- Their networking efforts are not focused
- Their networking efforts are inconsistent
- Their network is ad hoc and not aligned to their goals
These are common mistakes (and ones we’ll fix) but there is a more fundamental flaw at the heart of most efforts.
It has to do with the order in which people approach networking, and a fundamental misalignment between objectives, trades and people:
Problem 1: Targeting people you want to meet, vs. people you can help.
Problem 2: Failing to align your efforts to an objective and your unique assets.
Instead of deciding who you want to connect with because they can help you, and retrofitting something you can offer them, decide what you have to offer and who would stand to benefit from that. You will know upfront what trade you can offer them. Unique assets are something only you have access to, or create yourself.
This means changing the order from the traditional approach: I want to know Bill so I’ll set up a meeting, I’ll get to know him and then figure out something I can add.
For example, I am a computer programmer and I want to meet Bill Gates because I am in software and he is the best at software. I’ll set up a meeting through a common friend and he’ll be super impressed by what I have to say on computer programming.
More than anyone else, right?
The new order: I am a computer scientist on the board of a non-profit that organizes the efforts of environmental scientists across the globe.
For example, I want to give Bill Gates the opportunity to speak in front of the world’s top 100 environmental and disease scientists, so he wins and they win. I understand that I don’t matter in this trade, and neither should I. We’ll form a genuine ongoing relationship through this interaction, or we won’t.
But I tried in the best possible way.
This represents a move from lucking into opportunities, to creating opportunities. From hoping to doing. A move from deciding who you would like in your network, to who is the best for your network as determined by who you are, what you do, who you know, what you know and what you have to offer.
It marks a shift from inorganic, contrived networking that doesn’t work because it’s icky and people put up barriers. Towards organic, natural networking that works because it’s based on what’s unique to you that you can offer.
From people oriented networking based on what they can offer you, to value oriented networking based on what you can offer them.
The secret is that it all comes down to helping other people.
As Zig Ziglar said:
“You can have everything you want in life if you will just help other people get what they want.”
It is one of those ideas you come across every now and then that is truly simple, yet immensely powerful. It will completely reorient your energy. Laser focus your efforts.
The best part is that you don’t have to try to plan it all out. As I mentioned in this post, thinking about networking as trades might sound cold and calculated, but when you do it this way it is actually more natural and honest. Focused on what you offer others, not what you get in return.
The plan is simple: start doing trades with people who will benefit from them, and see where it leads you.
Most professionals don’t get this. And most professionals won’t succeed at networking. They’ll continue to work on an ideal list of contacts (as if they actually know what ideal looks like) and they will continue to think they can just set up a meeting and knock their socks off with their charm and charisma (as if they have something the next person doesn’t).
Most people try to choose new connections based on who they want to know, usually because they are prominent, or something like that. They arrange a meeting (it’s easy these days with LinkedIn, etc. to contact just about anyone) but it ends up going nowhere.
The key difference is the angle of approach, instead of deciding:
- I should connect with Sheryl because she’s the CEO
- I should connect with John because he’s a senior lawyer
- I should connect with Phil because he knows everyone in my industry
You reach out to someone entirely different, often from left field.
This is how I formed a relationship with an Australian billionaire who is heavily involved in my field. I didn’t try to, I didn’t reach out to him directly. No. That would not have worked on any level.
One day a friend of mine told me he had a connection to the Australian billionaire's wife, who works in venture capital and is very passionate about female founders. The firm I work for organizes multiple groups around various interests, including supporting female founders. So I reached out through my contact and offered his wife the opportunity to speak at our next event. She was happy. The group was happy. The attendees were overjoyed with her presentation. We could stop there and I would have been happy.
But it didn’t stop there. We formed a friendship during our interactions before and after the event because I asked her about her upbringing, background, family and perspective on other interesting things unrelated to work. I eventually got introduced to her other contacts, including her husband, who I am now friends with as well.
I saw an opportunity, identified a trade and executed it. I was creative, but most of all, I would have been happy if I got nothing out of it. I was just making a trade that led to value for other people.
Does it work every time? No. Definitely not.
But it does drastically increase the odds of success, has positive effects on other people and is far more time efficient.
Your network is your most valuable asset, so you need to do it right.
This means understanding how it works, having an approach, and putting it into practice. I strongly recommend you make the switch to value oriented networking and start bringing more serendipity into the world.
Before you go: I have interviewed 500+ professionals, surveyed thousands more, and I am always probing for their best tips, tricks and hacks to get ahead. There are five that stand out above the rest and you can get them right now by joining my free email list. You won’t find these ideas anywhere else.