I need clients!
That’s what I embarrassingly blurted out about 5 years ago when Dave asked me, ‘How can I support you?’. Ugh – what a loser I was!!
When I joined the entrepreneurial ranks, I REALLY learned the importance of networking. And I was also brought into a new club with new rules that I needed to learn. One of them was how often other entrepreneurs ended a networking meeting with that same question as Dave: ‘What can I do to support you?’.
Eventually it dawned on me – when I was in corporate, I saw networking as more of an obligation. I often thought – I’m not buying your product or service, but I’ll take your free meal or cup of joe. And in the process, I leaned on my inner NY’er, enabling my precision standoffishness, my Sherlock Holmes ability to uncover the slightest clues as to why your thing wouldn’t work for me and my company, and the awkward smile of thanks for the meal/coffee – which really meant, good-bye and don’t contact me again!
What I missed with the myriad of vendors that wanted to buy me lunch or coffee was that I could have been building a stronger network if I focused on the relationship instead of trying to be Mr. Tough Guy.
I still shake my head to this day about that Mr. Tough Guy I was trying to be – what was his deal?! Why was he trying to be such a hard ass?!
Anyway, as the saying goes – there’s no time like the present.
So I changed my ways, even with the annoying and incessant onslaught of vendors selling me their wares on LinkedIn. My typical reply is, ‘Thanks for reaching out, and I’ll respectfully decline.’ But believe it or not, a few relationships have budded from that.
In my work as a Leadership and Career Coach, I partner daily with gainfully employed leaders looking to improve and/or transition into a new role.
Irrespective of my clients’ career standing, we often talk about the strength of their network, who they’re able to call upon when they need support (kinda like Dave’s question), and who they rely on when they need the straight scoop and not some ‘yes’ person.
Internal Networking Generates Opportunities
All too often, the idea of internal networking is lost on people. They often do great work within their area of the company, department, or function – but regularly don’t pick their head up to see who else is around that they should get to know. Instead, they find strength in the familiar, limit their interactions to a smaller group of colleagues, and miss out on the bigger picture of knowing people throughout the organization.
Depending on your title, position, and seniority, your day-to-day interactions might very well be more limited to a smaller subset of the employee population. But make no mistake – you can generate your own opportunities and make networking a regular focus of your daily habits.
For those who are more senior, it usually appears ‘easier’ to meet with peers and lower-level employees throughout the organization. For more junior staff, for some reason, the idea of reaching out to senior leadership is seen as scary, uncomfortable, or maybe even taboo.
I’m here to tell you that’s folly!
Whether you’re a senior or junior leader – scheduling regular 1x1s, joining an employee resource group, volunteering for a special project, or asking someone to lunch or coffee is a great way to expand your network.
Not sure how to start the conversation?
How about ‘I’m taking an active approach to expanding my reach and network in our company, and I’d love to connect with you’?
Don’t like that one? How about ‘I’m working with a Coach who challenged me to reach out to you.’
Oh, don’t like that one either? How about ‘I work in X department and would love to learn more about what you do.’
Don’t like that either?? Well – you’re screwed! Haha – just kidding. The point is, don’t overcomplicate things. Especially within your company, most people are typically receptive to a networking opportunity and will give you the time of day.
Those who are best networked within a company seem to be more ‘lucky’ than others – they’re invited to things, promoted, and receive mentorship more so than those who are less networked.
The #1 reason is that the more networked you are, the more people know you. And the more people know you, the more they’re willing to do for you.
Change Career Lanes Quicker
When I coach those in career transition, I talk about job search as a 3-legged stool.
- Applying through job boards
- Partnering with 3rd party recruitment agencies (aka Headhunters)
For purposes of this writing, I’m focusing on #3 – networking.
When I ask people what networking means to them – guess what the #1 answer is?
The #1 answer is attending networking events. And that’s great. But guess how many people love going to them? If you haven’t guessed, most people do not overly enjoy or downright hate going to networking events.
That’s why I lean into the importance of leveraging your personal and professional network during the job search. In essence, your network is composed of the people you’re going to reach out to and ask for help (just like Dave’s question).
In a very simple manner, you’re going to ask your network for their input, feedback, and guidance. Job titles for you to consider. People they can introduce you to. Companies they can refer you to. Heck – maybe someone in your network just so happens to be hiring and looking for someone like you.
The Bottom Line Is…
As the old adage goes, if you don’t tell them, they won’t know. You’ve got to tell people in your network that you’re on the job hunt and for them to keep an eye out for you.
Whether you’re networking internally to enhance and increase the people you know at your company or when you especially need your network’s help with finding a new job – the more people you can count on, the better. More people, more knowledge = bigger network, greater opportunities.
It’s no wonder when the rumor mill is off the rails; those best networked can get to the heart of the story, confirm and deny details, and get people back on track.
Back to Dave’s question – after a few rounds of acting like a novice, I finally learned the best answer to that question: ‘How can I best support you.’ That answer is – I’m growing my network with X type of people, and you can support me by making any introductions you think would be helpful.
I love to network. If you think I might be able to help you – reach out. Let’s talk and support each other.