One of my friends recently told me that networking is just one letter away from “not working”. He was tired of networking events because “it’s too time consuming” and “all that business-card-exchanging is useless”.

On each and every of my workshops about business networking, I ask the participants about their understanding of the essence of the subject. I ask them to tell me the definition of networking. What I hear most often is something along the lines of “how to start a conversation”, “how to get people’s business cards”, “how to create a positive first impression”, “how to get a thousand new contacts on LinkedIn”.

Looking for cool tricks is good, of course. That is really all we can learn and achieve. Those tips and tricks are usually covered at the end of the workshop. But tips and tricks should be based on the strategy. Strategies are more important than tricks. No trick will save you if your strategy is failing.

There are no trick and tactics that will work in all cases. They will only work if they are aligned with your strategy.

Let me give you an example. You’ve heard that a smile is one of the networker’s best tools. Now imagine Vladimir Putin smiling all the time. That would never happen in real life. That’s an example of your tactics not being aligned with your strategy.

I can leave all kinds of good first impressions on all types of people, but what is the point if I don’t have anything to offer on the other side of my perfect handshake?

If your networking strategies are right even wrong tactics can get you results.
And here is the strategy which most of the people who fail in networking are missing: being regular, persistent, and consistent. In other words: looking at networking as a long-term process.

You see, what I’m looking to hear from my students when I ask about the essence of networking is that networking is all about building a relationship which later turns into a benefit. And no good relationship can happen overnight because building trust takes time, and trust is the essential component of any relationship.
Strong relationships are validated through good times, yes; but even more importantly, they are validated through bad times.

The best time to build a relationship with someone whose favour you need is months ago.

Several years ago I was introduced to the concept of Hunting vs Fishing. If you want something, you can either pursue (hunt) this, or become valuable (get a hook) and wait for the thing that you want to come to you itself.

For a long time I thought that Networking was like fishing: if you are good, people will come to you. However, now I believe that networking is more like gardening, and nobody explains that better than Matthew McConaughey: “Keep cultivating your garden. Keep questioning yourself, and growing your own flowers so you don’t go out chasing butterflies. Rather: grow, cultivate, take care of your garden, and those butterflies will come to you.”.

Don’t expect quick wins and fast miracles from the new people coming into your life. Sure, that is definitely a possibility, but the more you steadily invest in building yourself and creating value around you for other people, the bigger the miracles that start coming into your life.

And here is how you start building your networking strategy:

  1. Figure out your target networks. Who are these groups of people you would like to engage more with in your networking? If you are running your own business, you will most probably start with the clients group. Other options include: partners, potential employees, investors, mentors, potential employers, etc.
  2. Identify your value proposition for each target network. Or in other words: figure out what would be their incentive to have you in their network?
  3. Profile your current address book for existing contacts. Put each of your existing contacts in a specific – “bucket” – target network. There are a number of software options to manage your address book and references to email accounts and social networks. I, personally, use Contactually – it keeps track of all your communication with your contacts, so you can see how much time has passed since you were last in contact.
  4. Make sure you stay in touch with your network. Contact them at least once in 60 days.
  5. Don’t rush into proposing collaborations when meeting new people. Build trust, enjoyment and positive attitude in your relationship; try to establish a habit of small get-togethers, where each new meeting is slightly more important than the previous one.

Which of these suggestions can you implement today?