Tag Archives: networking

Engaging the Power of Your Informal Networks

By Michele Wierzgac, MSEd

Michele Wierzgac-informal network

Networking is recognized as a major influence on one’s ability to achieve great success. The most successful people in the world possess the capability to influence and shape the opinions of others. However, there is a greater emphasis on the type of network one participates in.

Much has been written about successful executives and leaders and how they participate in formal networks, but very little is known about the substantial amount of time they spend within their informal networks.

What is known is that the impact is vast. It is imprudent for you to underestimate the power of informal networks by saying they are merely “nice-to-have.” These types of networks are increasingly having a major impact on organizational effectiveness.

More importantly, these types of networks provide major business advantages for the participants and thus are known to advance many careers.

Defining the Networks

The main difference between informal and formal networks is the effort of the individuals to create and maintain them. The formal network often has an organizational culture attached to it, such as a formal philosophy, mission, structure, leadership, membership, eligibility, and funding. 

These networks are easily identifiable—board of directors, economic clubs, affinity groups set up by corporations, executive talent pools, online discussion groups, management groups, professional conferences, and associations.

Informal networks are based on the objective of achieving a reciprocal exchange of information and favors—no rules—share advice freely, expand the network at will, inspire each other, achieve personal goals, and help each other obtain business and career advantages.  The “old boys network” is based on the informal network system, hence the phrase, “it’s a man’s world.”  Again, the emphasis is on a one-to-one networking effort, as opposed to an organizational system that characterizes the formal network.

People have always had the need to build and maintain a network that involves trust and respect for others. Click To Tweet

Informal Networks Are Hidden

The informal network may be a group of industry colleagues with a common interest or a shared philosophy getting together for a casual gathering away from the office.  Other networks may be created through people you meet while traveling, attending church functions, or simply completing errands.

The most effective informal network contains high-functioning people who are extremely skilled, knowledgeable, powerful, and who have strong personal networks. Research indicates that extroverts are the element that drives a successful network. People who are friendly, courteous, tolerant of differences, and respectful of cultures and different perspectives achieve the most success. The informal network without the hierarchy and bureaucracy encourages the most interaction and achieves the most positive results.

On the other hand, there are many skills one must possess before being invited to an informal network. The most important skill to acquire is not to treat everyone like a mass market, a machine, or a cold call. The success of this most prized network depends on respecting the commonality among one another and to help each other achieve their goals.

Reflecting On Your Informal Networks

Here are strategies for polishing your informal networking skills. What do you need to work on?

  • Do not treat your informal network like a mass market, machine, or cold call.  Be a genuine networker.
  • Do you have a great attitude? Are you positive?  Do you see the big picture?  The successful networker has a strong belief in themselves and in what they are pursuing.
  • Who makes up the network? What are their needs, company, and interests? Leaders listen to the needs of the network.
  • Who makes up your network? How can you connect your network with this network? Triumphant leaders are strategic—always thinking ahead.
  • Do not be a name-dropper unless you have permission. Be an honest networker.
  • How much have you given to your network?  Successful people have the ability to give back. Share information and opportunities with one another.
  • Does your informal network share the same philosophy about career, business, friendship, or family? Identify key people you can relate to otherwise move to another network.
  • Do you know your goals, strengths, and career direction backward and forwards? Educate the network on exactly what you do and what you are looking for—people cannot read your mind.
  • What is your personal brand? Are you unique? How will people remember you? Remember that generic brands encourage generic attention.  Write a 30-word brand statement of how you want to be described. A personal brand statement is a method of controlling what others are saying about you.
  • Are you believable and credible? Leaders are passionate about who they are and what they do.
  • What are your gifts? Leaders share their talents within the network without reciprocity.
  • Write and call on a regular basis each person within the network and exchange information. Successful leaders are organized.
  • Are you brave enough to ask questions? Leaders do not have all the answers—ask for directions, opinions, and ways to get around obstacles.
  • Develop the ability to ask the right questions—do not ask a lot of questions.
  • Do you have the ability to self-correct? Leaders ask for honest feedback and take criticism from those they respect as an opportunity to improve.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate; be proactive in initiating conversation—do not give the perception of being in a clique or an exclusive group; be sure to mix and mingle.
  • Training in and respect for etiquette, protocol, and cultural awareness is mandatory—poor manners and ignorance immediately damage your personal brand and reputation.
  • Do you write handwritten notes? Thank you notes remain a critical ingredient for maintaining a genuine reputation.

Networking has always been an essential social skill founded on the interdependence of people. We all rely on the support and cooperation of others to achieve our goals. Informal networking involves bonding, sharing expertise, and investing time and effort into others.

People have always had the need to build and maintain a network that involves trust and respect for others; the informal network connects people who perhaps otherwise would not have met.

Informal networks are hidden and filled with rich resources to drive you to your next destination.

Michele Wierzgac is a leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author of the forthcoming book, Ass-Kicking Women: How They Leverage Their Informal Networks For Success. With her high energy presentations, Michele conveys sound leadership solutions and promotes audience engagement and on-your-feet participation. Michele is also a certified Business Enterprise through the LGBT Chamber of Commerce. She promises her audience that they will leave her solution-driven keynotes and workshops with at least one passionate, life-transforming leadership tool. For more information on bringing in Michele Wierzgac for your next event, please visit https://micheleandco.com .

Peter’s Law of Reciprocity

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-receive information

Too many people have a self-centered, protective attitude about knowledge. They want to receive information but are guarded, paranoid, or even disingenuous about sharing it. This is shortsighted; it is truly better to give than to receive. In this regard, I’ve developed a principle to guide me. I called it, Peter’s Law of Reciprocity, which states: “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t, so politely and tactfully learn what it is. Conversely, everyone you meet doesn’t know everything you do, so be willing to graciously share whatever you can when asked.”

Over the years, this principle has served me well. When I have chosen only to receive information, my closed mental attitude effectively limited what I could receive. On the other extreme, when I opted to only share information, I grew to believe that people wanted and needed what I had to offer. This was a patronizing attitude that I hope to never repeat.

When I freely share information that I unexpectedly receive the most benefit. Both instances lead to greater understanding. Click To Tweet

Receiving

When seeking information, exercise discretion in what you ask. Certainly, some things are off-limits. Personal information (compensation comes to mind), trade secrets, and strategic plans are prime examples. Also, it’s critical to be genuinely interested in what you ask. Insincere and devious queries serve to short-circuit the uninhibited exchange of information. Quite simply, if you don’t care about the answer, don’t ask the question.

When you ask others for their opinions and ideas, it’s acceptable to take notes; don’t rely on your memory. If you’re like me, you already have too much to remember. Some people assume that taking notes is rude to the person you are talking to; this is not so. Making notes affirms the speaker and their message. Note-taking conveys that their message is noteworthy; you demonstrate respect by writing it down.

Sharing

Likewise, there are guiding principles when sharing information. First, be careful not to betray a confidence or divulge a secret. It’s critical to use discretion and common sense to protect and respect the privacy of others—if you don’t, people will stop talking to you. It’s also important to not offer unsolicited advice. The only outcomes of giving unwanted counsel are people ignoring you or viewing you as arrogant. Lastly, it’s critical to not talk down to your inquirer but instead, treat him or her as an equal.

Networking

It’s human nature to talk to those we know. This implies we will seek information from and share knowledge with our friends. There is nothing wrong with this, except that after a time, ideas—even bad ideas—are recycled and then affirmed. When repeated often enough, people eventually accept it as fact, even if there’s no reason to do so. I call this intellectual incest, provocative, yet apt description of what happens with continually recirculated information among a small group of closely connected people. Certainly, we should talk with our friends, but we need to be aware of blindly accepting what they say without carefully considering its merits.

More valuable than interacting with our friends and acquaintances is interacting with those we don’t know. These are the people most likely to share something fresh or innovative. This, however, is also much easier to suggest than do. Nevertheless, most of my “aha!” moments have happened when talking with someone I just met.

If the goal is to learn and grow, then even more limiting than focusing our interactions on our friends is to restrict our attention to those we are with it, family or coworkers. Although this is safe and natural, it prevents us from being exposed to new thoughts and diverging viewpoints.

Co-Workers

When I have traveled with coworkers, I often set prearranged limits on how much time we spent together in order to make it easier to interact with others outside our company. Yes, we plan strategic times to reconvene and share what we learned, as well as to just relax in each other’s company, but for the most part, we intentionally split up, sitting with, eating with, and meeting with others in order to maximize our exposure to new ideas and different perspectives. As it is much easier to connect with someone by him or herself versus when they’re part of a group, this makes me more available and approachable when someone wants to talk.

The Goal

Though it’s often uncomfortable to talk to a stranger or ask a question, that’s when I receive the greatest reward. Similarly, it’s when I freely share information that I unexpectedly receive the most benefit. Both instances lead to greater understanding and enhanced perspectives, which is what interacting with others is all about—a mutual exchange of ideas and insights.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

5 Strategies for Effective Business Networking for Young Professionals

Five Guidelines for Effective Networking

By Jill Johnson

As young professionals, you hear all the time that you must network to find internships, jobs and mentoring relationships. Yet, many of you don’t know how to connect effectively with the business executives who can help you advance professionally. Many of these executives are willing to share insights, but few young professionals know how to successfully connect with them. Effective networking takes work; wishing and hoping for an effective network won’t get you anywhere. Our always—plugged-in world has upped the pace of life for established business leaders just as it has for you. Here are five strategies to help you approach building your networking effort by being efficient, organized and focused.

1. Build Your Network Before You Need It: The best time to start networking is while you’re still in school. Look for professional groups in your field. Attend their events with the goal to meet people working full-time in the field and learn from the speakers. Many of these groups need volunteers. Become one. It is a terrific way to gain experience, credibility and build your network. Slowly and carefully is better than rapid and all-in. Click To Tweet

If a businessperson or alum speaks at your school, go up to them afterward to thank them for their presentation and get their business card. Then follow up with by writing a note thanking them (even better mention something they said that resonated), ask a follow-up question about their talk and if they are willing to meet with you to talk further. Also, send them a request to connect on LinkedIn. Be sure to include a personal message when you send that rather than the generic connection request.

2. Build Relationships in Small Increments: Remember, older generations work off of relationships, not casual one-time meetings. Relationships built carefully over time with mutual interest can turn into the path to your next step in your career.

Building relationships with professionals is a skill, and like any new skill, you have to practice it over time. Be patient and let the natural timing work to your advantage. Slowly and carefully is better than rapid and all-in. Be selective and try not to cast your net too wide. You want networking connections that can help you in your field. As you gain confidence, learn to express yourself more clearly and ask insightful questions, which will also help you prepare for job interviews.

3. Be Specific in Asking What You Want: Don’t waste the time of your networking contacts. Be clear about what you are hoping to gain from the meeting. Tell them exactly what you want to do and why you think they can help you. “Informational interviews” are a terrific method for learning about their career path and gaining their insight about how someone like you can build your career too. But make sure you have a stated purpose for the meeting and then stick to it.

Ask if there are any events, trade association meetings or volunteer opportunities that you should consider to help you build your network and gain some good foundational experience. Then respect their insight and follow up by attending and getting involved. This gives you another opportunity to either see them again or to follow-up with another touch point to thank the connection who suggested it.

4. Face Time is Critical: We’re all too used to communicating by text and email. While that works in many situations, networking calls for much more personal methods. You need to build a relationship. This means personal connection. People can only get to know, like you and want to help when they meet you in person. This takes more time and effort, but the truth is, networking takes work to build a relationship.

Ask for a fifteen minutes face-to-face meeting. Plan to go to them to make it easier to get on their calendar. Prepare for your meeting by having reviewed your contact’s professional LinkedIn profile and company website. Have your question list ready before you get there (translation, don’t wing it). Greet them with a strong handshake and eye contact. Listen carefully and take notes as they answer your questions. Conclude the meeting with a sincere “thank you,” in person and with a follow-up handwritten note. Yes, handwritten. An old-fashioned snail mail will make you stand out. It is also a professional touch that is appreciated. Mail it the same day as your meeting. No kidding.

Face time includes social media too. Make sure your LinkedIn profile projects a professional image. It is not Facebook or Instagram. Think of LinkedIn as your online resume, so keep it updated. Use a business-looking photo, not a casual one. Then use your profile to build and maintain your professional connections. You will stand out if you “comment” on the posts your contacts make. Each comment is another form of face time.

5. Use Your Expertise to Help Others: Yes, you have it. You’re way ahead of the previous generations in technology and they can learn from you. You could enhance your networking relationship by sharing something you learned about a new technology or a tip sheet on advanced use of a software program. You could send them links to articles on topics you think are relevant to the business leader’s industry.

Share what you are learning as a way of thanking your new networking connection and keeping in touch. One interaction is not enough. Remember to “pay it forward” too by asking if there is anything you can do to for them. There might not yet be an answer, but it counts that you’re interested in a two-way street if possible. You may have some insight on how to use the latest technology gadget that will help them or might provide some insight on a challenging problem they are having with a young professional on their team. Always remember: you have valuable knowledge, too.

Jill Johnson is the President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a highly accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the forthcoming Bold Questions Series. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted nearly four billion dollars’ worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information on Jill Johnson, please visit www.jcs-usa.com.

Save

The Importance of Traditional Follow Up in a Non-Traditional Business World

By Russell TrahanRussell Trahan

Bryan walked into his office and flipped on the lights. It had been one month since his presentation and proposal submission to an industry-leading executive team, and that morning was to be the date of their decision on whether to retain his firm. A look to the phone—no blinking light signifying a voicemail. A scroll through his Outlook inbox—nothing. Securing this contract was to be a pivotal moment in his career, and sure to be the determining factor in his upward trajectory in his office.

The minutes turned to hours and no word, and the slight anxiety became increasingly worrisome. Bryan had covered his bases and kept in touch; just last week he engaged in some brief social media banter with the team’s CFO. Simple enough to maintain an air of informality and ensure the lines of communication remained open.

His inbox dinged: it was the company’s CFO.

“Bryan, we appreciate your proposal submission, but we have decided to go in another direction. We require more consistent interaction from our business partners, and while we scheduled today to finalize our decision, we had yet to hear from you in the interim. We wish you the best of luck.”

The email hit him like a freight train. He had avoided a formal follow-up process in fear of seeming overeager or pressuring his prospect, but had maintained casual connections through his LinkedIn and Facebook accounts just to keep his name top-of-mind. While Bryan assumed the company would appreciate his distance while they were in the process of making their decision, it actually became the nail in his corporate coffin. They were awaiting his traditional methods of follow up, and his lack of correspondence instead conveyed that he was not the right man for the job.

In an ever-expanding digital business landscape, Bryan’s story is all too familiar. Many working professionals are exchanging established means of follow up, such as phone calls and face-to-face meetings, for quick messages over social media or email, and it is impacting their business relationships and bottom-lines. They sacrifice professional courtesy in an attempt to appear casual, and regardless of the many ways we can now communicate, when it comes to follow up, the best practices are the traditional practices.

Social Media is for Building Business Connections—Not Maintaining Them: Have you encountered a friend or relative that limits all contact with you to digital convenience? That one person who never fails to have a comment reserved for your timeline or feed, but you cannot recall the last time you actually spoke?

These individuals also exist in the business realm, and they’ve attempted to streamline their communication with an overkill-level reliance on their social media accounts. It’s not just a bad business practice—it’s bad overall form. Social media can prove invaluable when creating connections, but maintaining them—as is the objective when conducting follow-up on a potential deal—should always be reserved for traditional modes of correspondence. Anything less borders on lazy and unprofessional.

Avoid the “Are We There Yet?” Once you’ve curbed your inclination for social media-centric follow up, there are parameters that should be adhered to when following up with leads. The first—and most important—is to establish an agenda when touching base with your prospects, and ensuring that each subsequent call or meeting occurs under the umbrella of providing new information.

There should be a concrete reason for picking up that phone, and a distinct benefit to the individual on the other end of it.

Any parent can describe road-trip trials and tribulations, and many of them will describe the maddening, constant cries of “Are we there yet?” from the back seat. That same irritated feeling occurs with continuous follow-up calls. There is a distinct difference between being attentive and being annoying—learn it, because your potential client is already well-aware.

Two to Tango: Bouncing off of avoiding impulses to flood your prospect with phone calls, you should actually give them the freedom to lead the interactions a bit. Allow them to dictate the follow-up flow by inquiring into their timeline and preference for the next call or meeting, and set a date.

Whether your next meeting is two weeks or two months away, your sales prospect has provided an appropriate date and time for your next meeting to occur. The onus is now on you to stick to the plan and pick-up the phone.

Set Your Calendar and Stick to It: The genesis of the business salesperson always harkens to a time when a man in a pork-pie hat would knock on door after door after door selling vacuums—the quintessential cold-call. There is now a palpable aversion to following up with established sales leads in favor of “keeping things casual.”

This only leads to one thing: missed opportunity. Let your calendar hold you accountable. Prior to the end of a meeting or call, be sure to pencil-in an appropriate time to follow up with your prospect, and stick to the date on the calendar. Keeping things casual may maintain pride, but it does not promote sales.

He was remiss with his follow up practices, and because of that, Bryan lost out on an important deal for his company, and for his professional growth. Lessons are often learned through unintended or unwanted consequences, and his silver lining exists in that going forward, Bryan will make sure to devote a large amount of energy and attention to the manner in which he follows up with prospective clients.

Russell Trahan is President of PR/PR, a boutique public relations agency specializing in positioning clients in front of their target audience in print and online. PR/PR represents experts of all kinds who are seeking national exposure for their business or organization. Russell and PR/PR will raise your business’ awareness in the eyes of your clients and customers. For more information, please visit www.prpr.net or email AdminAgent@prpr.net for a free consultation.

A Crash Course in Convention Networking

By Russell TrahanRussell Trahan

Industry-specific conferences and conventions are a hallmark in business networking. As an attendee or a sponsored vendor, you will be inundated with a who’s who in your field—from the headlining heavyweights delivering keynotes and breakout sessions to the newcomers looking to create a name and garner beneficial connections—the chaos of the convention floor can prove a sensory overload for the experienced and first-timers alike. For that reason, before you pack your bags, you need a crash-course in Event Networking 101 to maximize your potential for expanded company visibility and name-recognition.

It is one thing to work a room at a local industry function, but it’s another animal entirely when working the convention or conference floor, surrounded by hundreds—if not thousands—of likeminded individuals. There are numerous avenues to consider when preparing to attend, but there are a few staples to put into action to certify that your experience is a valuable one and you come home with encouraging leads, a lengthened client-list or an increased customer base.

The Convention Begins Before Takeoff: No one likes plane flights. There are few things more uncomfortable than a cramped cabin, yearning for an extra-inch of legroom, breathing recycled air for an inordinate amount of time. With imminent discomfort on the horizon for a span of several hours, there is a tendency to double-down on the comfort one can control, which usually involves dress and demeanor. There’s no doubt that a loose-fitting outfit and an early-morning mimosa (or two) takes away some of the irritations of travel, but if you’re heading to the airport in shorts and a tee-shirt with a head full of bubbly, you’re already starting your convention experience incorrectly.

The movie cliché involving a manic driver late to a meeting, weaving in-and-out of traffic, directing choice gestures at other drivers, just to arrive on-time and realize the guy he cut-off is the same guy he’s delivering a sales presentation to is exaggerated, but true. When you’re making your way through the airport, the convention is already under way. Every interaction should be treated as potential business, and this means dressing and acting as you would on the convention floor, and ensuring your conduct and attire remain professional—because you don’t know who is who.

Meetings have been scheduled in the airport Starbucks line, so while the inclination may be to travel in a relaxed fashion in comfortable attire, most working professionals will tell you they would trade a few unpleasant hours for a newly minted contract.

Exhibit A: For many companies, a large portion of their annual budget—as well as their time—is dedicated to their annual conference or convention. While investing in a sponsorship that involves a booth setup in the exhibit area can prove costly, it can also prove lucrative when the convention floor closes.

A booth gives your company a physical presence throughout the convention, and exponentially increases your visibility. As opposed to conversations and business card exchanges, you have an area replete with banners, boards detailing your products or services, and of course—your carefully chosen convention representatives.

Curiosity will often bring attendees to your booth to see what you’re all about, and as such, you should guarantee that it is managed by your most customer service savvy staff. Arrive early each day to make sure everything is in working order by the time the convention opens. Create a schedule with time-blocks that corresponds with the daily convention activities so you can plan one-on-one meetings with any potential clients away from the hustle and bustle of the booth.

Augment Your Experience – Deliver a Workshop: A superb way to create some buzz around the convention is to deliver a presentation or workshop. One great aspect of these events is that there is constantly something going on, from quick informational sessions to multi-hour seminars—and often, organizers are looking for individuals to fill out their extensive schedules.

If this opportunity is available, it should be considered a must. Attendees can read about your expertise or services, but there is no better way to get your ideas to stick than delivering a presentation. These workshops should be formatted as content-driven and informational—not as an in-person advertorial. Pique your audience’s interest by offering a solution to their problems or an approach to make their lives easier and your skills will prove impactful—and potentially profitable. Use your platform as an in-person sales-pitch and your efforts will go unnoticed.

The Convention is Over, but Networking Has Just Begun: You return home exhausted from multiple days of non-stop presentations, long-hours working the booth in the exhibit area and networking with your colleagues in the industry—but your work has only just begun.

It seems like a simple concept—follow-up—but it’s astounding how many professionals believe their face-to-face efforts will be enough to immediately lead to a windfall of new business. Your mindset upon returning home should be one of ‘they met me, and they met my competition.’ Separate yourself from the pack. Email your new contacts and convey how much you appreciated their time during such a busy event, and offer dates and times to continue your conversation. Twiddling your thumbs and waiting for the phone to ring often results in a net-zero gain—proactivity is the key to new clientele

Regardless of your industry, or your status within it, your calendar should be highlighted with the dates that you’re attending their annual conference or convention. The potential to recruit new clients and customers or craft longstanding relationships is boundless, and will boost your standing as a company or individual. Networking is a cornerstone of business, and a convention or conference is the premiere medium to make the most of your efforts.

Russell Trahan is President of PR/PR, a boutique public relations agency specializing in positioning clients in front of their target audience in print and online. PR/PR represents experts of all kinds who are seeking national exposure for their business or organization. Russell and PR/PR will raise your business’ awareness in the eyes of your clients and customers. For more information, please visit www.prpr.net or email mail@prpr.net for a free consultation.