"Networking" is getting close to becoming the new "synergy" -- a lazy, catch-all phrase used to describe any business interaction, no matter what it is. Well, guess what. Requesting thousands of LinkedIn connections from complete strangers doesn't make you an expert networker, any more than having far too many drinks at a party makes you fun to be around. In both cases, you're probably just an unpleasant, annoying nuisance.
Networking can be incredibly rich and rewarding. You just have to do it the right way. Here are some guidelines for effective networking.
"I just want to be friends"
This is one of the few instances where a rom-com line can, and should, be used in the office. I firmly believe that friends and business don't mix, and never more so than when it comes to money.
The reason for this is obvious--you can't stay friends after a breakup, whether you're talking about business partners or significant others. The camaraderie that was once there in a seemingly limitless supply completely and permanently dries up after a business deal goes bad.
Even if you think you can get over a bad business experience--and you can't, believe me -- you should be wary of the rose-colored glasses that a friendship sticks on your face without you noticing it.
When personal relationships are mixed with business decisions, a huge amount of bias comes with it. It can obscure your ability to make the kind of hard choices you sometimes have to make in business.
Networking is a two-way street
An excellent networking mentality is palms up, not palms out. That's why the most effective way to make business connections is to give before you get. After all, who are you more likely to open the door for? A vacuum cleaner salesman, or someone with a big dish of free cookies?
One way that you can do this is by making a habit of connecting people with similar interests. You have to do it enough times to make yourself known for it, so stick with it. But eventually, when someone needs an introduction to someone with a certain type of business, you'll be the first person who comes to mind.
Smart networkers know to make the most out of introductions by offering them first. You should, too. If you do it enough, people will think of you first as someone who should have business sent their way.
Keep an open mind
Treating everyone equally is a good guideline for networking. The most successful entrepreneurs often have a scrappy mentality that can sometimes extend to their lifestyles. While stereotypically wealthy-looking individuals can often be hopelessly in debt, Warren Buffet is known for eating at McDonald's and then walking to his modest home in Omaha, the same one he bought for $31,500 in 1958.
People may be chomping at the bit to meet Buffet today. After all, everyone knows who he is. But would you feel that way based on watching him eat fast food? Anyone could turn out to be an important future business connection, including that intern taking everyone's Starbucks orders. If that intern becomes the next CEO you have to make a deal with, he or she will remember you as the one who treated them well.
So keep an open mind beyond your close circle, and drop any "me first" attitude. You'll be amazed by the results.