Not many would deny the fact that networking holds an important place in business, regardless of industry. So we should all want to do it well, but how many of us actually can? The truth: not a lot. In the following article, I explain the 4 cardinal rules to becoming a networking master.

1. The Why

Business has been and will forever be collaborative. The importance of fostering symbiotic relationships, whether at an individual or organizational level, is vital for success.

Throughout history, people and animals alike have survived in great part due to relationships with others. So finding those with knowledge and skills to compliment your own can’t be overlooked. 

Even in the wild, there are species that rely on each other in order to survive. For example, the Remora fish eat scraps from the prey of sharks, in return, they clean the parasites from the shark’s teeth and body. An example in a business environment could be how solar companies refer real estate agents to residential clients and vice versa, and both businesses get a nice commission in the process.

2. The How

Like anything worth doing right, there should be a plan in place when it comes to networking. And the best approach out there is a proactive one. So go online and look for local business meetups in your area; BNI’s, Chamber of Commerce, etc. 

Parallel to the proactive approach, you should be prepared for the odd elevator pitch. Obviously, at local meetups you will likely be asked to talk about yourself, however, even on the street, there’s always the possibility of chance encounters with other business types. So make sure you’re prepared for that next chance meeting by polishing your elevator pitch.

3. The Who

Now you might be wondering who belongs in your network. Who is it that will take you to the next level in your life and business? However, thinking this way isn’t always going to get you the best results. The best networkers focus on cultivating genuine connections with just about anyone they cross paths with, whether it be those they see on a daily basis or those they see only at the odd Christmas party. The takeaway here is that there’s no rule as to who can and can’t be in your network, so long as you focus on building real and authentic relationships with your contacts. 

Now obviously this doesn’t mean you have to give every single person you know your undivided attention. The way to cultivate a solid and trusting network is to simply be you. Show them who you are and what you can do.

Just remember, building trust takes time. So building a network established on trust isn’t an overnight operation. You have to keep at it.

4. The Path

I can speak from experience that it’s never enough to just show up to events and gatherings. You’ll need to walk around and actually talk to people. For the less naturally social of you reading this, here are a few pointers to help better equip you for these networking conversations:

  1. Learn people’s names. Then, when you do, say them often. In Dale Carnegie’s world-famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, he said, “a person’s name is to him, the sweetest sound in any language”. That lesson still holds true today.
  2. Ask questions. Showing genuine interest in someone else’s life is a great way to make real connections. Afterall the best approach to being engaging is to be engaged. Ask about personal interests, hobbies, work, opinions, etc. 
  3. Listen. You’ve probably heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth, so you should spend twice the time listening than speaking. So once you ask those engaging questions to get the ball rolling make sure you listen carefully and really take in their response. 
  4. Relate. If you can find common ground between you and the other person, let it be known. Finding similarities are a great way to break down any trust barriers. So see if you have any friends, hobbies, experiences in common. The best way to do that is simply by asking the right questions and listening attentively.
  5. Ask For an Introduction. Arguably, the hardest part of any networking conversation is saying goodbye. A great trick for leaving one conversation to go to another is by asking the person if they can introduce you to anyone in your field.

Just like any other professional, becoming a networking master takes time, effort and dedication. To become a master takes adherence to the cardinal rules, which means proactively meeting others, listening attentively, and showing your honest character and capabilities.