Networking is a modern-day art form that is constantly evolving, one which is often shaped by the trends of social media platforms for online networking that complement face-to-face relationship building. But the same tips apply when it comes to making a success of both digital and personal interaction – or not.
I could write about the rather obvious dos and don'ts of a networking event, such as do remember to give out business cards and don’t drink too much champagne. But ultimately, the biggest mistake people can make when networking is expecting immediate results.
Building a network is about connecting through common interests, not about asking favours. As with many other things in life, you will only get out of networking what you put in. So if you seek to build your professional network only to benefit from who you can meet and what they can do for you, then you are wasting your time.
Building a business based around people has taught me that if you genuinely value someone in your professional network, you will have as much of a vested interest in their success as in your own. This level of connection takes time, and it is likely you will have a long period of acquaintance with someone in your network before an opportunity arises for you to help each other.
Of course, this may not always be the case: it may well be that your new business connection is able to assist with something in your professional life the week after you have met. However, the key to building a successful professional network is not to expect that this will be the case.
So whether you meet someone at an industry event, are introduced via a mutual contact or connect with them on LinkedIn, do be genuine: you will soon get caught out if you are not. For the astute networkers out there, it is all too transparent when you approach them grinning falsely, hand outstretched, with a tactical glint in your eye that signals your intention to bleed them dry of every name, insight and piece of business-critical information you can possibly obtain.
If you really want to connect with someone on a professional level for the long term, then be real. Be yourself, be interested and interesting. Enjoy the introduction, feel pleased to have met someone new and widened your professional circle, and then get on with life. Don't wait to be asked a favour only so you can ask one in return. After all, trading favours is transactional, not real relationship-building.