Summary: For most of us networking is a key to business development and, as in all endeavors, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about it!
In our networking travels we have likely all met individuals who may fall into the category of those who ask much more than provide, take much more often than give, who incessantly speak and rarely listen and, well, you get the point.
So how do we make sure that we are never considered by others to be poor networkers who should be avoided and instead, to be the type of networker that others seek out and want to meet?
Ironically I was sent an article from the New York Times by two different people that provides an excellent list of some important networking Do’s and Don’ts.
In this case the article is specifically discussing how someone who is asking for professional advice should approach things but, many of the ideas can pertain to networking of any kind.
Because remember that although you might think that it is, networking is NOT only about you!
Make the meeting convenient. Ask for time frames that would work well, and meet at a place that is convenient for them, even if you have to drive across town. If they leave it up to you, give them three options and let them pick the one that works best.
Recently, someone asked me to meet him for coffee, and I told him I could make “just about anything work” on a particular Friday. He responded with, “I like to start my day early, so let’s meet for coffee near your office at 6 a.m.” I wrote back that 6 a.m. was too early, to which he responded, “O.K. Let’s make it 7 a.m.” If you want me to pull out all the stops for you, this is not the way to start.
Buy their coffee or meal. Insist on doing this as a sign of how valuable you consider their time and advice. If you are on a tight budget, ask them to coffee, but insist on paying for it by saying, “This is a huge favor to me, so please let me do this small thing for you.” If you can manage it financially, try to meet for drinks or dinner after work. You will get more of their attention if you are not sandwiched in during their day.
Go with a prepared list of questions. People whose advice is worth seeking are busy. They don’t have time to sit through your stream-of-consciousness thoughts. Figure out in advance what information you want from them, and send your list ahead of time so they can be thinking about the answers.
Don’t argue about their advice or point out why it wouldn’t work for you. You can ask for clarification by finding out how they would handle a particular concern you have, but don’t go beyond that. You get to decide whether or not to use their advice.
Don’t ask for intellectual property or materials. I am amazed at the number of people who ask for copies of my PowerPoint presentations and seminar materials to use in their organization, with no understanding that these materials are original and copyrighted — and how I make my living.
Never ask for any written follow-up. It is your job to take good notes during your meeting, not their job to send you bullet points after the meeting. No one should get homework after agreeing to help someone.
Spend time at the end of the meeting finding out what you can do for them. Do you know anyone who could use their services, or who would make a good professional connection? At the very least, consider writing a recommendation for them on LinkedIn.
Always thank them more than once. Thank them at the end of the meeting, expressing your appreciation for the time they have spent with you. Follow up with a handwritten note — not an email or a text.
Do not refer others to the same expert. I just helped someone (whom I didn’t know well) polish her résumé and craft her job-search pitch. Then I worked my contacts and helped her land a great new job. The result? I received emails from two strangers, asking me to “network” with them, because the person I had just helped suggested they contact me to do the same for them.
Ask an expert for free help only once. If the help someone offered you was so valuable that you would like them to provide it again, then pay for it the next time.
As you ask people for help, always consider how you in turn can help others. At the end of each workweek make a list of the people you have helped, and the favors you have done for which you received nothing in return. If your list is empty week after week, then you really are a networking parasite.
Michael Haltman is President of Hallmark Abstract Service in New York. He can be reached at mhaltman@HallmarkAbstractLLC.com