To be clear, when I say networking, I’m not talking about social networking online. I’m not talking about Vine and Snapchat and whatever else the whippersnappers are into these days. Rather, I’m talking about old fashioned networking – getting to know people, face to face, from diverse parts of the community, hanging on to their contact information, building a connection, and figuring out ways to collaborate or to support one another in the future. Networking is not limited to sales professionals and people seeking a new employment opportunity. Networking is a treasure trove of potential for everyone, and it’s never too early to start.
So first up – the good that can come from building a network. The number one thing to remember with networking is that anything is possible. With every person you meet in the world, you are creating new opportunities… to nurture new relationships, to transform your how you spend your time, to create and innovate, to change directions, and more. It’s a bit jargon-y to say, but in professional circles it is fairly common to hear about problems that come from “staying in the silo.” A silo, in this instance, is a person or organization who thinks that they can do it all; that they don’t need anyone else; and that their efforts are sufficient to get the job done. I’d wager that, sure… the silo may be capable, but it may also not be the best. Synergy comes from working with others, and the only way to get there is with an open-mind and a willingness to engage other people, their talents, and their ideas.
Networking is all about karma. The more good you throw out, the more you’ll hopefully encounter in return. Now, usually we don’t do good things merely hoping for a big karma payday, so the big bonus in networking is that it is also a way of developing helpful relationships. In networking, you may find mentors, co-conspirators, investors, advisors, and even friends. If you build a network by intentionally thinking about how you can help others, the helpful relationships you cultivate will likely have a pretty decent return on your time investment. Helping leads to more helping, and that’s a good thing.
On to my second point – the good that networking can create for your community… Up to this point, I’ve mostly talked about networking benefits in individualistic terms. I help you, and you help me. But how can we use networking to help other people too? I’m going to make a case for shaking up the normal networking routine a bit. Think about your last networking experience. You probably entered the venue, checked in, grabbed a drink, and scanned the terrain to find a target. Most people hone in on people that they already know. It’s a comfort thing, and that’s fine. Remember, however, that the goal of networking is to meet new people, so if you find yourself chilling in a comfy corner talking to your BFF, go stretch your legs and say hello to someone new. Now imagine that conversation. You both introduce yourselves. You probably give your job titles and your elevator speech on what you do to occupy your time at work. What’s next? You could talk about the Super Bowl, or the New Hampshire primary (dangerous territory there!), or the weather forecast. OR, you could throw a networking curveball and ask about something completely new, like: “What types of community service initiatives does your firm support?” If the answer is “None,” then follow up with something like, “My firm encourages employees to do community service, and we always participate in the back-to-school drive organized by the local United Way. How do you think your employees would feel about initiatives like that?” My guess is that most people don’t want to come off like jerks, so even if they don’t want to talk about community service, they will still engage you on the topic. As you talk further, you might find out that your conversation partner doesn’t really care so much about back-to-school drives, but is really impassioned about something else, like no-kill animal shelters or affordable green building programs. You might find that you hold some near and dear cause in common, or that you know about resources that could help them grow a service-oriented project. And the best outcome is when your conversation brings for opportunities for collaboration with each other.
By starting a conversation with a do-good topic, you achieve a few notable things. You’ll obviously stand out. Your conversation will be drastically different than any other “how’s the market going these days” convos that tend to predominate in networking situations. That means that you will be memorable. Because you are memorable, there will be a greater likelihood that if you or the other person chooses to follow up, that your second conversation will be fruitful. You left behind a good impression, one of a philanthropy and goodwill, and impressions like that typically feel fresh and remarkable. If, in the course of your networking, you stumbled upon opportunities to work together, then it is worth emphasizing that the likelihood of real, tangible good stuff resulting from your networking encounter is pretty great. And, even if your encounter doesn’t actually lead to anything more, at least you filled a few moments with another person talking the language of doing well by doing good. In a culture too often characterized by throwing shade at one another, that alone is noteworthy.
There’s another potential benefit of talking the good talk when networking. If you’re leading with good, people will expect good from you. They will expect you to walk the walk as well. Such expectations will give make you feel good about yourself – when you’re known around town as the gal who does good things, you’re more apt to have high self-esteem and an impulse to follow through. Such expectations might also provide you with a degree of professional leverage to manipulate your daily activities so that your 9 to 5 work feels more meaningful. If colleagues and professional peers know you as a community do-gooder, then perhaps your supervisor will be more inclined to allow you to attend charity Board meetings during business hours because she or he will value the quality of the connections that you nurture there. You will also likely develop some serious community service credibility. Own it. Use your charitably-minded inside track as a way to suggest changes to your company’s culture, mission, or vision. Be confident, follow through, and continue to self-promote in professional ways at networking events. Perhaps your next non-traditional conversation starter will be more along the lines of “I recently worked with our PR department to develop cause marketing strategies focusing on our early education pre-K initiative. Our Twitter followers increased by 200%. What kind of success has your firm had with cause marketing?”
And of course, if you’re a younger listener and you haven’t had an opportunity to make a personal impact on a company … maybe you don’t even have a job yet … then talking about your community service interests when you meet influential people out and about is a way to help you stand out from the crowd. Employers tend to highly value visionary and motivated people. Showcasing that you currently use your talents to make good things happen in the world will never be a detriment.
Although you may dread networking and the sometimes awkwardness of small talk, I hope that this little chat has helped you to see how through networking you can aspire for greater things and loftier goals. Compounding good makes good better, and networking is an amazing opportunity to find people with interests and talents that amplify your own. You know your passion – use networking as one of your many tools to make the connections that you need to nurture it. I believe in you.
I hope that you will join the Good & Gracious Co. community over at www.goodandgraciousco.com. The goal of the website is to throw a lot of good out there and hope that some of it sticks to make the world a better place. I greatly welcome your participation. Again, my name is Alysia, and I thank you for listening. Go forth and do good, friends.