By Guest Contributor Alisa Grafton, Author of Great Networking
What’s networking, one might ask. And, more to the point – why should I care?
Let’s say you’re in the professional services and how well you do in your job depends on the quality of the service that you provide to your clients. If you do well – your client portfolio grows, people stick with you and recommend you to others. And if you lag on the client relationships – the potential of your progress is likely to be limited. And it all starts somewhere – with that initial client base, with the people whose trust in you as a professional made you the professional that you are today. How nice of them. But how do you get to that enviable position?
Let’s start by thinking of your most valuable client, the one who has been with you through thick and thin, the one who stood by you when something went wrong, the one who has helped you to build up your name. How did you get to be so lucky to have such a loyal client?
Perhaps it goes something like that: your boss “volunteers” you to attend a networking event. Reluctantly, you agree – you have heard that networking is where it’s at!
So, after a hard day at work, you finally manage to escape the office and arrive at the venue where things are already in full swing. You inhale deeply and, reluctantly, walk into that room full of strangers. You make a beeline for the bar, grab a glass of wine, and turn around to have a good look at the room. There’s a buzz in the air, a cacophony of conversations, but no one pays you any attention. A part of you just wants to down the wine and walk out – your boss can’t complain that you didn’t make the effort to attend. Another part of you desperately craves to be a part of a sparkling conversation – here and there you hear genuine laughs, flowing, engrossing discussions, see interested faces and attentive expressions…But you don’t know the hosts and feel somewhat lost, lingering on the edges of the room. Then you spot an equally uncomfortable looking person, self-consciously staring at their phone, glancing up occasionally. After a few minutes, you get a confidence kick, saunter over and strike a conversation.
It’s not nearly as awkward as you feared it might be. You talk briefly about what has brought them here, discuss the forthcoming conference that – coincidentally – you both seem to have been invited to, and realise that you work in complementary industries. In fact, your new contact knows someone who recently needed the services of your company but was not sure whom to approach. You ask more questions, then explain – concisely – what your specific role is. Turns out, that practice of writing down and committing to memory your elevator pitch is really paying off!
You quickly establish that this shy, unassuming wall-flower of a person is a lead on the deal that your business would do well to be involved in. But you decide against exploring any professional opportunities during that initial introductory chat – wise move! Luckily, that person is a genuinely interesting conversationalist, too. So you continue exploring mutual points of interest – specifically, what connects you outside work, as well as on the inside. You focus on things that both of you have in common – you remember stumbling across a piece of advice to, first and foremost, find something that links you to the person in front of you. After around twenty minutes of an engrossing, flowing conversation, you are keen to exchange contacts.
You move away to have other conversations but get in touch with the first person the next day, to fix a date for a coffee. That provides you with an opportunity to discuss business with more focus and certainty. You agree to work together. A few weeks later you receive your first assignment. Because you aim for a connection first and foremost, and not a business opportunity, the relationship between you is authentic and work-related discussions are easy. You like your new contact, and the two of you are starting to develop professional trust.
That trust grows over the next months of working together. By the time you are working on your third project, you feel strongly that you have established a relationship of mutual liking and trust. Indeed, the kind of relationship that does not crumble even when something does not get according to plan. And this is worth the effort of making that first step into a room full of strangers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alisa Grafton is a partner at De Pinna Notaries, a leading legal notaries firm, and assists law firms, investment banks and multinationals to execute cross-border transactions. She is also active in female leadership and is a mentor for the Athena40 Forum. She is based in London.
In order for you to obtain valuable information or help from your contacts, you yourself must be valuable and generous to others. Therefore, one of the key points of Great Networking is building the right kind of professional relationship – and here, authenticity should be at the core of your networking. The author provides proven advice on how to build relationships strategically, that will last for the long term, and will bring mutual benefits. At the same time, the author stresses the importance of you remaining true to yourself and your core beliefs.