Stop Leaving Networking to Chance

If you are starting up a new company or leading a key project for your organization, you must create relationships required for success.

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By Paul Axtell

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Let's start by telling the truth. Are you just signing up for conferences because you think you should go but then not talking to anyone? Are you drudging through a few happy hours a year and calling it done? Are you worrying about the relationships you should be developing but still aren't doing anything? It's time to get intentional and get started.

New projects and startups often stall because critical relationships are missing. If you are starting up a new company or leading a key project for your organization, you must create relationships required for success.

Related: Build a Network That Will Be There When You Need It With These 3 Tips

Here are eight strategies for getting started:

1. Determine the people you want in your network.

What 10 relationships would dramatically increase your odds of success?

  • What talent do you need?
  • What expertise do you need access to?
  • Who might mentor or coach you?
  • Who can bridge you to important resources or contacts?
  • Who would you love to have on your side?

Make a list and keep adding to it. Allow yourself to dream—who would you love to be connected to?

2. Identify the "introducers."

Remember the six degrees of separation idea? Someone you know knows someone who knows someone. Start brainstorming who might know the people you want in your network. Ask them for their help. When you make a connection, immediately follow up and get a conversation or meeting scheduled. Be persistent. Gentle persistence is an influence skill.

Related: Don't Let These 5 Excuses Stop You From Networking

3. Learn to listen.

Listening is the key interpersonal skill that makes conversation work. Train yourself to just listen -- not problem solve, not generate ideas. Just listen. It doesn't take much time. Devote yourself to someone for four or five minutes, and you honor both the person and what is said.

4. Take someone to coffee each week.

An invitation to coffee signals that you care, and fifteen to twenty minutes each week allows you to create new connections and renew old ones. Determine what you would like to ask before you go, then listen more than you speak. The point is to add a deliberate practice that will steadily add to your network. Imagine the springboards that might occur from fifty such conversations in a year, where your focus is on connecting rather than on getting something done.

5. Use what's already on your calendar.

One of the best strategies is to use the meetings and events you are already scheduled to attend. Just go with the intention to connect and build your network. Go ten minutes early. Introduce yourself to everyone you don't know. Plan to stay ten minutes late. Check in with people about their families and projects.

6. Listen for what you can learn.

People will reveal their passions and concerns if you listen for them. Once you become aware of what matters to people, you can ask questions that get you into wonderful conversations—and conversation is the essence of relationships. Make notes after conversations. Don't trust your memory with the networking aspect of starting a business or project.

7. Keep track.

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon, says it best: "Goals don't make things happen; systems do." If you want to create and maintain great relationships, find a simple way to capture what you learn about people and keep track of it. When you're keeping track, you notice more about what people tell you, and you can more readily access it for follow-up conversations.

8. Express value.

After talking with someone, share two or three points of value for you in the conversation.

For instance, "Sarah, thank you for taking time out of your schedule for coffee. I appreciate understanding more of what you are dealing with, and I leave with some questions for my own project team.

Expressing value validates both the person and the conversation. If you do this, many relationships and conversations will be enhanced.

These strategies will give you the ability to thrive in a world that swirls in relationships and conversation. Meeting people may not be your passion, but it can be a strength—and it just might be the deal breaker in whether you succeed.

Related: The 10 Most Important Steps to Becoming a Master Networker

Paul Axtell

Consultant and Corporate Trainer

Paul Axtell has more than 35 years of experience as a personal effectiveness consultant and corporate trainer. He has spent the last 15 years designing and leading programs that enhance individual and group performance within large organizations. He is also the author of the forthcoming book, Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversation.

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