Don’t Just Network; Create Relationships

Networking, ugh! If you’re like me, when you read the word networking, you get a slight chill up your spine. I can’t stand it. So don’t just network; create relationships. I value and protect my time as if I only have one more day on this planet. Growing up I was insanely shy. In fact, when we had guests at our family hunting lodge, my father would try to pay me $20 just to shake someone’s hand. $20 in 1991 to 5-year-old was a small fortune. I wouldn’t do it- not a chance.

As I’ve grown older, I have realized just how important expanding your network and create new relationships is. Put yourself in places and around people that you want to emulate in life. One of my first big opportunities to get in front of people was being invited to the Eberlestock’s “Out There” (to learn more, check this previous post) event where I met some of the most impactful people in my life today.

That event has changed my life’s trajectory for the better. Luckily, many of these people have become real friends, not just acquaintances. The team that constitutes Eberlestock is more than just a company; they are a family. They are soulful and want nothing more than to create a community of awesome people doing awesome shit- and it’s working. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but early on in my life, I realized that you don’t get anywhere without others’ help. Your ability to meet people and create and develop a deeper-than-surface-level relationship is directly tied to your ability to grow as a person.

Putting yourself in new situations creates new energy, new ideas, new perceptions, and more opportunities than you can ever imagine.

So, how do you network? You don’t just network; create relationships. It’s quite rich that someone like me is writing about a topic that I so deeply despised for so long. However, there are a few straightforward tactics that I have found to make an impact on my ability to expand my network. True networking occurs when you understand that everyone in the room is of equal value. Its purest form is about people enjoying others’ company, communicating passions and experiences, and connecting with others who share those passions. It’s about listening, figuring out what others need, and connecting them with people you think can help without your personal benefit in tow. The most successful networkers build genuine relationships and give more than they receive. They never think, “What’s in it for me?” and focus on, “How can I help?”

1- Be Humble

One of the biggest issues I see when people are introduced to a new group is that they want to make themselves look more important than they are. Humility is one of the most attractive qualities that I find in people. If you’re in a group of new people and all you do is talk about how important you are, how much money you make, what you’ve accomplished, how many people you know etc. etc., you’ll immediately turn people off. I do think it’s important to provide factual evidence of your background and experiences in order to relate, but don’t try to be Mr./Mrs. Big Shot.

Do not make a conversation about yourself. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. If you come into a new group or event talking about yourself nonstop, you’re going to immediately turn people away.

2 – No Small Talk, that’s just networking.

This one’s really tough for me. I have social anxiety, and so anytime that I’m put in a position of being surrounded by new people, I have to fight internally to stay away from small talk. You only get one chance at a first impression, and if you waste that on discussing surface-level topics, the person you’re talking to could think that you have no depth as a human. Ask deeper questions. Ask people what they think. Tell people your background. Discover where they struggle so that you may be able to add value.

3 – What’s your value?

This leads me to my next point, adding value. Before you attend any networking event, get clear on what talents, strengths, skill sets, and connections you can bring to the table. Map out what you want to talk about, particularly how you may be able to help other people, either now or in the future. Simply sharing their messaging or brand or purchasing their product and showing it to your friends can add tremendous value; you can also add value by simply listening.

People often need someone to listen to their thoughts and ideas before presenting them to a large group. Being honest in that situation and providing thoughts and corrections is invaluable. Other ways you can add value are simply by handwritten notes, helping set up or clean up the event, asking if there’s anything that you could help with while the event is going on. Lastly, buying a nice bottle of their favorite booze always garners a smile.

4 – Be Grateful

Being in the restaurant business and having to entertain people for my entire life, there’s nothing worse about someone than ingratefulness. Always be over-communicative about how thankful you are to be invited to an event. Thank people for any feedback or guidance you receive. Make sure to seek out anyone who had a hand in putting on the event and thank them.

5 – Don’t dismiss anyone as unimportant.

Some of the most humble people that I’ve met have been the most influential. Find value in every conversation you have. Don’t worry about people’s titles, but the character they live by. You never know what relationships or connections they may be able to provide.

6 – Follow up and follow through to build relationships.

If you know say you’re going to do something, follow through with it. Remind them how you connect and the purpose of the connection along with how you intent to help them. If it’s connecting them with someone else, fire off the email. We are all super busy, but this one small act of kindness can literally change someone’s life. It did for me, and I am enterally grateful.

7 – Become an intentional connector

When you stop focusing on the number of networking contacts you can meet and actually care about the people and create lasting relationships, your network will naturally explode. Become intentional at connecting people who you think can help each other. Be sure to clear it with the two contacts beforehand, but this is a natural value add for people who may help each other. Also, don’t be a gatekeeper. If you know that someone can help another person, do NOT WAIT to help that person when it can most opportunely help you.

8 – Tools

Luckily today, we have so many available options to network right in the palm of our hands- Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, email, text, etc. I have “met” countless people that I now would call friends and communicate consistently through one of these avenues. Seriously, send a message. Have a value add, show interest in what they are doing, ask a question, or help other people in their community with their questions- Create Dialogue. Share their message, product, ideas, or talents. Don’t be a creeper -haha- but if they don’t answer the first time, who cares? Keep helping, keep adding value, and you will get noticed.

There are also tons of in-person events (although this last year really hurt that option) such as conferences, trade shows, happy hours, meet and greets, sporting events, concerts, etc. If you can’t find one that suits your needs, create your own event! Host all the people you want to meet for a happy hour with no other intention than just putting great people in a room together! Remember- don’t just network; create relationships!

Whatever you do, don’t just sit back and wait for something to happen, it won’t. Momentum breeds momentum. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction. If you create a wave, other people will see it. Make something happen, add value, create dialogue and dominoes will start falling in your favor!

It’s go time!