By Patrick Fuller, President/CEO, Fuller Solutions
Early in my career, I realized the importance of networking. One of the things that helped me become a stronger networker was to watch and learn from great networkers. So, for this week’s blog, I decided to reach out to three colleagues whose networking skills I admire to get their perspectives on the power of networking along with their best tips. I hope you enjoy their insights. I did!
F.C. Brigham is President of Redcat Racing. Prior to joining Redcat Racing, F.C. spent 15 years with Insight Enterprises. His executive experience includes leadership background in IT, marketing and ecommerce sales. He left Insight in 2008 during the recession and his network, which he quickly grew and nurtured, helped open new doors. In fact, it was during that time he realized the full value of networking. “I thought my SVP title at a Fortune 500 would open lots of doors,” he said. “Not so, it was the recession years.”
To F.C., networking is important because it helps to not become so insular. Through his network, he gains a larger perspective on what is happening in the industry and keeps a pulse on trends and opportunities. This information helps trigger new ideas. He also noted that his network is a great sounding board outside the walls of his organization.
F.C. encourages others not to be afraid to open up to strangers about their passions. “You never know where your next opportunity will come from,” he said. He shared a great story about an experience sitting in the sauna at Gold’s Gym, where he met a man starting a company in the sports industry. They later met again to converse more about the man’s business, and F.C. ended up becoming an advisor to his company.
He noted that the law of reciprocity is very important in networking. He personally finds it hard to ask for help or assistance, but truly enjoys learning about what others are doing and seeking ways to help them out. One of the easiest and most useful ways he’s found to do this is by making introductions. He has three canned emails ready to go at all times so that they can quickly be tweaked to the particulars of a situation and introduction. One caveat F.C. noted in helping others out is that if someone is not being respectful of your help and time, it’s ok to pull out of the situation to protect both your reputation as well as the network.
When it comes to social networks, F.C. says he does use LinkedIn, but believes it’s a bit overused for business. “If someone wants to connect with me, they need to personalize their message and add value,” he stated. He added that social networks can be great, but you need to be savvy about using them or you can come across as a spammer.
For those just getting started in networking, F.C. recommends a simple strategy of picking up the Phoenix Business Journal and attending their many networking events. These events are a bit easier for those new to networking as they’re designed to network. You can be sure others are there to do exactly what you’re there to do. You’ll most likely make a few great new contacts.
When it comes to nurturing his network, F.C. said he tries to carve out time each week, about two hours, to dive into LinkedIn and reach out to people. Once a week, he tries to schedule a meeting to converse with someone.
Diane is president at Palladium IT Advisors, which she founded in 2010, after many successful roles in executive level IT positions. Diane shared that networking is important because it helps us to increase our value to others and to our employers or potential employers. She also noted that it simply makes us smarter. “Anytime you have a dialogue with someone outside of your immediate workplace, you learn new perspectives,” she said. “It increases your overall body of knowledge.”
Diane has been in IT for a long time and said that networking comes pretty natural to her, adding it is part of her DNA. She said that many people in IT tend to be more introverted, so networking may not come as easily. She advised that one way to overcome hesitation about networking is to come from the point of view of giving before receiving. “My definition of networking is to be focused on trying to help people.”
She also said that everyone in any profession should be involved in some extracurricular activity related to what they do. She believes this is a good place to get started networking because you will meet people with common interests. In IT, she says user groups or associations are great, and you can find one in the Valley for pretty much any area of IT specialty. She added that the Project Management Institute (PMI) is great for project management professionals, International Institute of Business Analyses (IIBA) for business analysts, and Society of Information Management (SIM) for IT Leaders, as well as various Meetups and User Groups for all technical disciplines.
Diane also encourages individuals to have a strong profile on LinkedIn that includes your core skills and a description of the work you did for each position held. She uses LinkedIn for networking, but also feels that requests to connect should not be random. She said her personal LinkedIn network is around 1,500 and she knows each person, although certainly some better than others.
While Diane specializes in IT recruiting for companies in the Southwest, she spends about a third of each week just talking to people about their careers, outside of her work for her clients, and it is something she truly enjoys doing.
When it comes to nurturing her own network, Diane admitted it is challenging as your network grows. She schedules three to four coffees or lunches each week to connect with people and stay in touch or to develop deeper relationships.
Diane noted that a significant part of her company’s success when launched in 2010 came from referrals through her network. She said, “The stronger your personal brand and network are, the easier it is to accomplish your professional goals, whether it’s to find your next job or start your own company.”
Matt Birmingham is Manager, CRM Development at Grand Canyon University. Matt believes that a trusted network of people you can reach out to at a moment’s notice is very important.
He speaks from personal experience…
In 2009, with the U.S. economic downturn at its absolute worst, a company he helped to build from the ground up lost nearly all of its major customers. He had to find a new employer. Weeks earlier, his five-year-old son was diagnosed with a lifelong, life-threatening illness. “I was staring at a real likelihood of no income and no health insurance,” said Matt. “My personal and professional networks were the lifeline that helped keep me afloat and eventually land a job with an amazing opportunity.” He said had he not had a deep network, he might have ended up a statistic on the evening news.
Matt shared that “professional networking” starts early in life as simply “making friends.” He does believe, however, that a network does not appear out of thin air. Most people have a “base” network of people they know personally and professionally. He suggested that if someone is new to networking that they start with their “base” network and pick a social networking tool they are comfortable with – be it LinkedIn or Twitter – and use that tool to connect with people they already know and trust. From there, it is easier to build out one’s network to new contacts and acquaintances.
Conferences, professional organizations, and other opportunities to meet face-to-face are Matt’s preferred ways to grow his network. Local Meetups also provide opportunities to meet like-minded individuals. He added that personal events like golfing are also a great way to expand one’s network.
When it comes to social networks, Matt prefers to silo his networks based on how private or public the network is. On his more public networks like LinkedIn and Twitter, he’s less interested in the quantity of his connections as much as he is about the quality of those connections. “A connection with no context is of zero value to me,” said Matt. “I tend to have a smaller but more honest lists of contacts.”
Having a more personal network allows Matt to keep it high touch. On holidays and important dates, he likes to send personalized well wishes to those he’s closest to in his network. He acknowledged that as his network expands, it can be difficult to do this, but believes it’s well worth the effort.
Like the others interviewed for this blog, Matt believes in paying it forward. “Be gracious, be thankful and be there when someone you know needs your help. You may just be their lifeline in their time of need,” he said.
I hope you enjoyed the perspectives and advice featured in this blog. Someone once told me that when it comes to networking to play big, meaning that you should not be afraid to reach out to contacts you perceive as a rung or two up on the ladder than where you’re currently at in your career. This requires being comfortable with your story so you can tell it with ease and confidence.
Everyone interviewed for this blog stressed the importance of helping others out as a foundation for successful networking. I’ve always liked this perspective as it makes networking less scary. It’s about approaching networking as a way to make friends and help others. Great things grow out of this approach, as evidenced by the stories of our guests featured in this blog.
A final story…
When I first stared networking, I used to play a game with myself. When I attended a networking event, I would strive to get either five new connections or five rejections. That’s right. Rejections. Basically, I would psyche myself out by “pre-failing” in my mind. It lessoned the fear of rejection, which is what holds most of us back from networking. Here’s what I found. It was really hard to get five rejections. Sure, I got some (never five!), but I learned to just move on and keep networking.
Please share this blog post on your social networks if you enjoyed our guests’ point of views. You’ll be sharing value to your network and nurturing it by doing so!