How I Became the “Networker of the Year” (and how you can too)

Written by Jeanniey Mullen, Chair, Women’s Leadership Group

This past week at the Internet Marketing Association’s IMPACT16 event I was awarded the “Networker of the Year” award. I was very excited!

Winning any award is awesome, but this particular award was very meaningful to me. To me, a recognized networker is an influencer. Someone who is able to to engage with their community as both a trusted advisor and valued contributor. People in leadership positions strive to do this all of the time. After all, even when you don’t think you are networking, you are networking. And, when you put yourself out there, sometimes you make a good impression, and sometimes, well… you just don’t. To be recognized for successfully networking to the extent that someone thinks you deserves to be recognized for it is pretty incredible. This got me thinking about how I could use my award to give back and help others reach the same level of impact and recognition.

How can someone become a great networker?

Being a great networker starts with an assessment of your the traits a good networker displays. Are you born with them, or can they be learned? Some of the top traits I believe are the most critical to effective networking include;

  • Be sincere and genuine.Treat every conversation as an opportunity to learn and you will win. People can smell a fraud a mile away. If you genuinely share your interest, enthusiasm, or inquisitive nature about a person or topic, you can’t go wrong.
  • Listen. My 3rd grade teacher Sister Angela taught us this poem: “A wise old owl, sat on an Oak, the more she heard, the less she spoke. The less she spoke, the more she heard. Why can’t we all be like this bird?” She was so wise. Listen – for reasons to engage, opportunities to assist, ways to connect. Listening pays off!
  • Look for opportunities to help. The best networkers aren’t just willing to help you, they go out of their way to help you (if they find value in what you have to say). They understand the “Pay it Forward” concept. Everyone is able to help someone in their own way; an introduction to a friend, a recommendation of a book, restaurant or article. Any of these efforts will pay dividends. Looks for ways you can help.
  • Follow up. This could be the most critical trait of a successful networker. Great networkers don’t just follow up with the information they promised today, they follow up for years to come. This is a great way to build long lasting, powerful relationships. Find time every week to “like” a photo on facebook, “<3” a tweet or “comment” on a LinkedIn status update. Even a small gesture like this plays an important role in maintaining the strength of your network.
  • Be strategic. If you networked with everyone you met, ugh, you’d be exhausted. It’s ok to be strategic and find people who can help you become a better person, improve your skill set or even get ahead in life. For those of you who are like me and love meeting everyone and learning everything, remind yourself: Stay focused.

Why is it important to network?

Networking opens doors you never saw before. Here are a few lessons I have learned about the benefits of networking:

  • You can’t do it alone. No matter what your role is in life; business leader, entry level employee, student, consultant, stay-at-home person, you’re not sure yet, you need a network of people to help guide you, support you, save you from trouble, or introduce you to new opportunities. You need to network to build a strong community.
  • You’ll be blown away with how networking works. Some call it karma, but when you are networking, the benefits come in all shapes and sizes. Opportunities between personal and business areas sometimes blur. Recently I got an introduction to a liver transplant specialist who could help my father in law while networking at a work function about digital marketing.
  • You get closer to achieving your dreams. Effective networking is like solving a logic puzzle. It works like this: Write down your goal. Then, start backwards to define the steps you need to take and people you need to meet in order to get there. Once you have a plan, you will be able to execute with a clear vision. Use the tips above to approach getting started and make it happen. (Persistence and patience pay off).
  • LinkedIn makes it easy to network effectively. If you are reading this post on LinkedIn you are already one step ahead of the game. Over the years LinkedIn has made it easier and easier to build your plan to network for success. Whether you use the people in your network to introduce you to someone you are trying to reach, send an InMail, or join a group to start a conversation that helps to build your brand, LinkedIn offers support, direction and even some great analytics to support your goals. There are many posts out there about how to best use LinkedIn (like the link below). Don’t forget to read those to help you achieve the best results.

How can you connect with a popular networker?

Everyone wants to connect with someone who is already popular or who can help them reach their goals. Whether you are trying to get in touch with Conan O’Brien, Richard Branson or your potential next business target, there are a few tactics you should keep in mind.

  • Don’t just try to connect to connect. If Richard Branson (or the other, not-so-famous person you admire) cannot help you reach your goals directly, you might just want to follow them instead and look for insights to help you along your way. Sometimes, the more “average” connection is more powerful.
  • Share your desire to connect. Share that reason with the person you are reaching out to. Be upfront about what it is to ensure both parties can make good decisions about whether it will work out.
  • If you are looking to connect with someone who is a mutual friend or connection, mention them to add credibility. The person you are looking to connect with will do their research as well.
  • Don’t send a slew of reminders. If you don’t hear back right away (meaning up to 1 week), don’t panic and keep reaching out to ask if a message was lost . Instead, after a week send a reminder with something additional of value – another intro, an invite, a whitepaper etc.
  • Remember to follow up with the person after they have connected with you to share your progress. It’s always nice to hear that thanks to your connection someone got an interview, a great new job, or even made a critical decision. Getting back in touch ensures this person is more responsive to you in the future.
  • Be a good networker. Say thank you. If someone helps you, reach out to help them. An endorsement, an introduction or something of the like. It pays to give back.

Networking is something we do on a daily basis whether we mean to or not. With every person we make eye contact with, or speak to, we are networking. Take pride in every connection and communication. Smile, keep an open mind. Use each introduction to your advantage. The benefits of networking will pay off in dividends over time and when you least expect it. The best part? You might just find yourself helping others create a better life along the way. And after all, knowing that you have helped make the world a better place is an accomplishment no one can deny.

Interested in learning more? Here are some great articles about being a phenomenal networker that you might enjoy:

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