Rules Of Engagement
It’s often said that “people buy from people,” and here in the digital age that old adage seems truer and more important than ever. In building any business or brand, it really does come down to people. It’s easier than ever to get glued to your desk, head down in the work, communicating via text or email. But it’s important to remember – while social media can be good; real, live, social interaction is always better.
If you’re shy about networking, or if you think that your work “speaks for itself,” you might want to think again. Your work doesn’t speak for itself. You have to go out there and speak for it – with confidence and clarity.
As a well-established branding and design studio, quality referrals account for very close to 100% of our business. With all the marketing we undertake to promote our company (including this blog), in-person networking remains one of the most reliable ways to grow the kinds of referrals and relationships that can sustain a business.
New York Stock Exchange President Tom Farley would agree. In a 2015 profile in Fortune magazine, he gives much of the credit for his quick rise through the financial ranks – on his way to becoming NYSE President by the age of 40 – to the power of effective networking.
“I owe every job I’ve ever had to networking,” Farley says. “Networking is crucial to succeeding as an individual, thrive in your industry, and have fun in your career.”
In that same article, Farley offers a few tips on how to make networking work for you and your business. Here they are.
Don’t limit your network
It doesn’t matter if someone is inside or outside of your industry, if they are interesting and influential, be willing to commit time and/or resources to meet, connect or help that individual. The most successful people that I’ve met at the NYSE – including Chairmen, CEOs, and Heads of State – have the broadest and most interesting range of networks spanning industries, occupations, geographies and ideologies. Sometimes it’s individuals completely outside your immediate sphere that end up being a connector or offering the savvy advice that propels you forward at a crucial junction.
Do your homework
Once you’ve secured a meeting, phone call, or introduction to network with someone – don’t mess it up! My personal rule-of-thumb: be prepared with at least two areas of common interest. For instance, before I met with Prime Minister Abbott of Australia, I discovered that he is a fitness fanatic and closely follows Olympic swimming. This unique information helped me break the ice by inviting him to train with me and a few friends – including a close friend of mine who swam for Australia’s Olympic team. After the small talk, the rest of the meeting went smoothly and we did indeed hit the gym the next morning (and, as an aside, the PM can do an impressive 10 pull-ups unassisted).
Don’t ask for anything in return
Networking is not transactional, but too often it’s approached in such a way. Play the long game and build the network for the sake of building the network. Early in my career, I offered to review a peer’s business plan without any expectations about a job, compensation or even a cup of coffee in return. This encounter eventually landed me the position of CFO for this well-funded technology startup.
Often times people miss opportunities to network because they feel intimidated, particularly if the other person is more senior. However, there is very little downside when aiming high, other than a bruised ego from time-to-time. The worst that can happen is they say “no” or ignore you. At that point, it is onward and upward!