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Three exercises to strengthen your networking muscle

I love to connect people. I can’t help myself. If we’ve had a cuppa together, and you’ve talked about a project you’re working on – whether it’s personal or professional – at some stage during the conversation I will have asked you ‘who can I connect you with, who might be helpful?’. Or my phone comes out and we start looking through LinkedIn to see who I know who works at a particular organisation or has a particular skill. Connecting people, passion and projects has become almost second nature to me.

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It hasn’t always been this way. Just like going to the gym to build strength, I have deliberately worked on strengthening my networking muscle. And, just like gym strengthening, once the muscle is built you have to keep using it to make sure you stay in shape.

I know many of you are already cringing, thinking ‘I hate networking’. I know. It’s an effort. If you want to really succeed in your personal and professional role, then building and maintaining a good, healthy network is vital.

Let me give you an example. When I was the CEO of Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project we were desperately in need of a new, larger office to accommodate our three-fold expansion. I was in negotiations with an organisation nearby who had a perfect space. The discussions were going well, however my contact indicated to me that the board had some reservations about the proposal. I didn’t directly know any of the board members, and I knew I had to influence them, and quickly. So I went back to the office, checked their website to find out who their board members were and looked them up in LinkedIn. I discovered many ‘second degree connections’: people I knew who also knew them. I set about asking for email introductions. All agreed. Within an hour I had connections to half the board.

In the end, that deal didn’t come off – although only because they decided to renovate the space rather than take on a tenant.

A strong network is key to success. So if you aren’t building up your networking muscle, now is the time to do it.

Here are three exercises you can do to build your networks:

  • Plan – who are you going to talk to? How will you get connected to them? (LinkedIn is marvellous for this!) What are you going to ask? Often when I am researching an organisation, I will have a set of questions that guide my conversation. Having an idea of what you want to ask will be more useful for you, and more respectful of the other person’s time.
  • Ask – don’t be afraid. The worst thing that can happen is that they’ll say no or not respond.
  • Give back – if you have asked someone to a cuppa or lunch, pay for him or her or at the very least offer to do so. Follow up with a thank you phone call or email or even a gift. Last but not least, when someone asks YOU for your time and insights, say ‘yes’. Not only will you meet a potentially interesting person, you will deposit some karma in the karma bank that will come back to you at some stage in the future.

Follow these steps and in no time you too will have a strong networking muscle. What project are you working on that would benefit from some input from your networks? Who might be able to help you out? Who might gain something themselves from being involved in your project?

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