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A Beginner's Guide to Professional Networking

Organizations do not make decisions - people do. And given a choice, people tend to do business with people they trust or at least know.

When we started our company "Fourth Ambit", we were a couple of guys in our 30s who were out there trying to sell a brand new product that had not been tried and tested.

We had no previous experience in this particular industry, there were no other similar or competing products in this space for users to compare and see if we were bette - in fact, the need itself for this product was not very clear to users at that point. Our first sale came through our network - people who trusted us enough, who had enough faith in our professional commitment to give a reference to a client.

Why is NETWORKING so important?

Across batches, courses and geographical locations, find and connect with all your friends and begin interacting with them.

"Its not just WHAT you know.... WHOM you know, matters..."

I often say that Networking so important that it should be introduced as a credit course in colleges.

You could be brilliant in your chosen field of study but sooner or later you would hit a roadblock OR see someone much less talented (in your opinion) overtaking you just because they "know" the right people. What do you do? You can either figure out what your competition is doing right or hide in a cocoon of negativity, complaining how the world does not recognize true worth.

Fortunately, I have been one of those lucky people who started networking before I actually knew what it really was. But when I look back, I still see a lot of naysayers who looked down on "networking" because it is considered a softer option.

It couldn't be farther from reality. In the word's of Business strategist Glen Lopiz, Networking is a full time job and requires 100% commitment

It could be for your first sale; it could be for a job ( just to ensure that your resume stays on the top of the bundle) - the power of your network cannot be IGNORED.

"Investing in building your network, strengthening your professional relationships is one of the BEST investments you will make for your career"
1. A good place to start....
...is always your school/college alumni network"

Alma Mater - Alumni

I have seen college kids looking baffled when I speak of building networks - wondering how in heaven's name do they get to meet the right people.

From our childhood folklores, remember the old man who was sitting on a mountain of gold, and does not realize it? That's pretty much the story with one's college and the mountain of gold which is your Alumni Network.

blog_41_20150723065010.jpg

Your Alumni network is an untapped resource of richness. People who graduated before you - 10 years, 20 years back - are possibly the "who is who" of the industry today.

One of the concerns raised is how does one identify and reach out to alumni who are in a senior position?

a. Check out the company where you have done your internship or got your campus placements. There is always a good chance that one of your alumni is in a senior position within the organization

b. Alumni Meets are good place to start

c. Today more and more colleges are building online alumni networks. It takes five minutes to register but benefits are far reaching.

2. New kid on the block?

When we move into a new city and start a business venture, the easiest thing you can do is to join a business networking group which is prevalent in most of our cities today. These could be Toastmasters, Chamber of Commerce groups, BNI, etc

Many of these do have a membership fee. If you cannot afford that, there are organizations like Startup Village, TiE, BNI which are free or very affordable.

3. Elevator Pitch

You have 30 seconds or less to capture the attention of this strategically important person to whom you are a complete stranger. You must have your elevator pitch ready. And even if its not the most interesting pitch, ensure that it is honest and delivered with a lot of sincerity.

4. Creating a Goodwill Account

blog_42_20150723065010.jpg If you have a bank account, you need to first make your deposits before the withdrawals can start. It is the same with professional relationship building. Before you reach out for favours, ensure that you have helped them out first. This creates a mindset of obligation in the other party and they find it difficult to refuse a request when you have a reasonably good balance in the goodwill account.

5. Diversify

There is a very good chance that 80% of the people who are reading this are from the engineering or B-school background. Take a step back and think – do you have any “contacts” in any of the following fields – an artist, a journalist, a lawyer, a movie maker, may be?

It is true that birds of the same feathers flock together. But this is not always great. To have a meaningful connection, to learn and appreciate things from a different perspective ensure that you have people in your network who come from diverse fields

Sallie Krawcheck (past CEO of Merril Lynch) says:

"......just as the most successful management teams bring complementary strengths to the table, so the most meaningful professional networks do as well….even if it takes a bit more effort...."
6. The Mantra

I will leave you with a sacred Mantra that will lead you to professional success, no matter what.

" Follow up, follow up, follow up "

This is the Holy Grail of relationship building - especially, if you have offered to do something from your side. Never fail to follow through on that.

The challenge is to be creative in your follow ups - or else, you run the risk of increasing your nuisance value.

Professional networking is not just about adding people to your social networks.

It requires investing time & effort from your side. The core of networking for professional growth is the same as what you bring into any relationship - you need to be committed with a long term focus!

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