Within organisations there is usually a wealth of networking experience. Deals often depend on sustaining positive relationships. The problem is that the leaders and others who are good at networking and sustaining positive relationships are not conscious of what they actually do as far as networking is concerned.
My job is to enable them to be more conscious of what they do and articulate the ‘tacit knowledge’ in order to share it within the organisation. To achieve this, I recently showed one of my clients how each role model in the firm could write up their ‘networking profile’. This information may be used as a tool in a variety of ways to promote internal and external networking.
First I drew up an outline for them to follow. This would help tap into the way each person operated. But, to test the concept and way I was structuring the information, I needed to write up my own profile according to my format and I’m sharing this with you. I have included the number of words as a guideline. In most cases, the profiles should be considerably shorter.
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Summary of Brenda’s approach to networking
Brenda’s ‘what can I do to help you’ approach enables her to assist others and build positive relationships. She searches for opportunities to connect ‘people with people’ and ‘people with information’ and optimises those opportunities. She consciously promotes a strong personal brand and actively assumes a systematic approach to networking. She sustains relationships by remaining in contact with people from various aspects of her life and intentionally moves seamlessly between her work and private life. (75 words)
Background and experience
Brenda currently operates ‘Brenda Eckstein International’, a training and consulting company, specialising in leadership development, strategy and training in communication skills and customer service. Her theme of FLAG (Fun, Leadership, And (continuous improvement) Growth permeates all her endeavours.
Her background in clothing retail and manufacture provide opportunities for building a strong customer base and enables her to incorporate a strong ‘hands on’ approach in all her consulting and training. Through a voluntary organisation aimed at leadership development and communication skills, and using opportunities to ‘hold office’ at high levels she enjoyed the opportunity to present training and build her network in many different countries. She remains in contact with friends internationally.
Her opportunities to train and build her network with this organisation made her realise that while she had been presented with incredible opportunities, she lacked a formal training qualification. She thus embarked on becoming a trainer through a professional company and qualified with an international qualification. She later gained accreditation in South Africa through the Services Seta (but chose to abandon that avenue and become a ‘listed provider’) and also qualified as a registered assessor. In Australia in March 2009 she was awarded the ‘Professional Member’ accreditation through the National Speakers Association of Australia.
Brenda has served on many boards and committees but confines her appointments to positions that enable her to ‘add value’ combined with her passion for the goals of the organisation. She finds that the easiest way to raise her profile is to write articles for quality magazines or to address audiences of the right caliber. That way she gets through to many people at once. She always follows up with anyone who contacts her after one of her presentations or having read one of her articles or one of her two books, ‘Networking Tactics’ or ‘ABCs of Networking’.
Brenda’s passion for business started at a very young age as she was brought up ‘under the counter’ in her mother’s tea-room. Later, as part of her degree she chose to do her research and write her (junior) thesis on ‘Modern Trends in American Retailing’. That ‘opened doors’ for her and presented opportunities which resulted in her and her husband starting their group of clothing stores from scratch.
Her involvement in ‘organised business’ led to her becoming the first woman to hold the position of ‘President of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Commerce and Industries’. Her next leading role was that of President of International Training in Communications (at that time, the Headquarters were in Los Angeles). She continues to be passionate in helping others in leadership roles. (430 words).
Approach to networking
Brenda uses several tools to diligently and methodically reach out to people:
- When she meets a person for the first time, if she wishes to pursue the relationship, she contacts the person again within 48 hours. That interaction could be as simple as saying ‘it was great meeting you, let’s stay in contact’. That step cements the introduction and sets the scene for future networking.
- Brenda makes sure that all details are immediately entered into her database. She uses ‘Outlook’ and currently has over 5000 contacts, all people with whom she has personally interacted. (She does not support ‘list buying’ or using.)
- In the ‘notes’ section of Outlook, she enters relevant details which may help her to connect ‘people with people’ or ‘people with information’. A good way to start is to write down 5 key words about the person. These could include tangible aspects of their appearance (big nose with scar on the left nostril – only kidding!). An example would be Rosie C (catering company, sons attend Cordwalles, husband = neurosurgeon, formerly a nurse).
- She purposely uses carefully chosen ‘categories’. For example, she spends a total of two months each year in Australia. Each trip she creates a category of those significant people with whom she has interacted during that trip. For example, there are 70 people listed under Australia November 2009. That makes it easy for her to follow up with a personal note and contact each person when she returns to South Africa. She may even send them photographs taken during the trip if appropriate. For each training session she runs, she creates a category, e.g. BEI 324 is the last ‘How to get your point across’ workshop. There are also groups for family, friends and other categories. One person may appear in multiple categories.
- Her Contacts are synced with her phone. She purposely chose a phone with the capacity to transfer all her contacts and store them according to the categories on her computer. (She uses categories for reference a great deal.)
- Brenda always has her A4 ‘black book’ with her. Here she writes notes as she talks to people. A book lasts about 4 months. As she nears the end of each book she summarises all phone numbers she has used into the next book. Her secretary checks these against her Outlook Contacts to make sure all are updated. Brenda then goes through the summary and phones as many of those people as possible and appropriate. This acts as a reminder to her to phone them at least every 4 months.
- Visibility is very important. She aims at participating in at least two networking meetings and events a month (either Chamber or independent functions). She also attends a wide range of presentations and talks. However, she is ruthless in refusing invitations to events which are not in line with her interests, goals or image.
- Positioning at any function is very important. Where possible she takes a seat near the entrance facing the incoming people. That way she can smile at specific people as they enter. At gym, on Sundays she has coffee in the coffee bar after she has completed her exercise (timing is important, people want to do their gym first, and then talk). She positions herself at a table where she has easy access to the people whom she wishes to speak to and network with.
- She also supports colleagues who may be presenting talks and sends ‘well done’ and ‘thank you’ notes immediately after functions. She also sustains positive relationships with the press and journalists and always phones to say ‘thank you’ after every article or mention of her.
- Brenda is constantly on the ‘lookout’ for information which may be of interest to others. For example, she sends newspaper articles or photos to people where she feels that they would be of interest. She enjoys recognising opportunities and immediately linking people. For example, if she hears some-one looking for information on e-learning and it is appropriate, she’ll provide the opportunity to connect with a colleague who is an expert in this field.
- Brenda uses techniques to build relationships. Over the years she has developed her skills in a technique which she calls the ‘listen-comment-question’ approach to quality conversation. ‘Open’ questions dominate. This helps to build relationships and trust.
- Brenda averages 16 breakfasts, lunches or ‘coffees’ per month. She finds that most of the people she networks with are high powered people who work hard and are tired at night. Dinners also are not as cost effective as breakfasts or lunches. However, she finds that her business colleagues enjoy the opportunity to be entertained at her home and she occasionally combines business networking with her passion for cooking and entertaining. She carefully combines interesting people and usually has 14 people for seated functions at home. She strategically seats people, and moves them (usually with their partners – where appropriate) to new seats during the meal.
Networking Success (one example)
When Brenda reads a book or article that really interests her, she contacts the author. For example she had found the ‘Instant Manager’ to be an excellent quick guide and she wanted to use a certain questionnaire in the book for a training session she was presenting.
Tracking down the author Cy Charney was very difficult. The publishers were not keen to divulge information. After a great deal of effort, she tracked down this ex-South African to Toronto, Canada. She phoned, chatted to him and asked his permission to use the questionnaire. He immediately responded in a positive manner as he was impressed that she had taken the trouble to phone him, congratulate him on his book and to ask permission to use the questionnaire.
As it happened, Brenda was one of the programme organisers for an international convention which was being help in Toronto a few months later. Co-incidence! She was looking for a workshop presenter to fill the final slot that had not yet filled. And Cy Charney was perfect. He agreed and presented an excellent workshop (on a voluntary basis!) at the convention. After that he also invited her to explore becoming licensed to present his work in South Africa and this was investigated.
So, through making the effort to contact the author or authority on the topic, we help to build a positive relationship and achieve positive results. (232 words)
Advice from Brenda
- Pick up the phone! Don’t rely on e-mails. Talk to people. Regularly.
- Always follow up immediately on any offers you have made and keep the other person informed of progress.
- Respect people’s time. When you phone them, ask if it is appropriate to talk to them at that time. They may prefer you to phone later.
- Respect people’s privacy. Don’t share information or contact details without first asking both parties their permission. ‘Would you mind if…. I gave a colleague your contact details as I think you have a common interest.’
- Adopt an attitude of ‘what can I do to help you’. Contrast this with the network marketing or pyramid approach where many people want to be friendly so they can sell you something or tap into your network. We avoid those people!
- Sustain relationships. Don’t allow an active relationship to become dormant for too long. A quick phone call to ask how the person is reminds them of your existence.
- Remember details. The person’s family, dog, hobbies and interests are all ‘hooks’ on which to hang your interest. Try to tap into their passions. Ask yourself, ‘what makes them tick’? Show genuine interest in the person.
- Practise the ‘listen – comment – question’ technique using open questions to build quality conversation and positive relationships.
- Develop a definite networking strategy for yourself and put it into practice.
- Harness the power of collective networking for your team.
The above is an example of the Personal Networking Profile which I have developed to help organisations tap into their internal networks and learn from each other.
Take action. Articulate the way you operate and share with your colleagues (where appropriate) Sharing valuable information will help to achieve greater results and you’ll build stronger teams.