After introducing one of my mentees to some people that he could see would be good for his career, he asked me how he could become part of the social circles of such people. I could understand his desire to be associated with them, because one of them was a high flying communications executive who makes a very strong impression, the other was a young audit firm partner with remarkable credentials in the accounting field. My response to my protégé was, “What value do you think you could add to their lives?”
Report by Thembe Sachikonye
And this is the central question of successful networking. As you seek to build a powerful community of contacts, your primary focus should be on demonstrating the value you can add to each one. As soon as you can establish your value, you must begin to communicate that value to other people in ways that make you a compelling proposition.
Your ability to network effectively can make or break an outing, a career or even a business. It is through networks that many businesses find customers, employees, advisors, suppliers, collaborators and investors. Building connections that work is vital for business growth. But what makes other people simply end up with a bunch of business cards, while others are able to leverage networking opportunities to create significant impact? I believe the difference is in perceived value to be realised from an association.
If people believe that engaging with you will be good for them, then they will be more open to engagement. But for that to happen you have to be able to persuade them of your worth; and to do so in a very short space of time and with few words. In his series on building a personal brand, renowned brand strategist, Thebe Ikalafeng reiterates that it’s not what you know, or even who you know that will get you ahead, but it’s who knows you! If people know you for what you can do for them or their businesses, you will very likely be in high demand, and you will be in a position to extract the corresponding financial value for the work you do.
When we were kids my sister and I used to derive great entertainment value from the passage in Proverbs 31 commonly titled, A woman of virtue. You have to understand that we were growing up in a very strict household and we had to get our laughs from whatever material was available; and the Bible was always more than available. We teased each other about “waking up while it is still night” and imagined all kinds of nefarious activities that someone who moves around while others are sleeping might be up to!
Notwithstanding our adolescent mischief, the passage in Proverbs outlines in considerable detail the kind of high value individual that a “woman of noble character” was expected to be. Considering that this was in the days long before bra-burning feminism, this was a vision of a fully empowered woman who was a trader, property dealer, wife, mother, philanthropist, strategist, fashionista and all round leader! Now that is a value-adding individual!
However, adding value doesn’t always have to be on a large and daunting empire-building scale.
I have a couple of girlfriends who are simply gifted with vivacious attractive personalities to such an extent that I would never dream of throwing a party without inviting them. They automatically become what you might call the “life and soul of a party” and so they make any hostess’s job much easier. I can be absolutely confident that they will turn up looking fabulous and make conversation that is interesting, appropriate, entertaining and charming. That’s a quality that no amount of money can buy, and so it represents very high social value indeed.
You may wonder how being a “party girl” can translate to real and tangible success in life, but the net result of these women’s proposition is that they get invited to a large number of events where they have the opportunity to meet and impress all kinds of people from different spheres of society and business. They inevitably become extremely well connected and with a decent dose of skills and intelligence, this allows them to go very far in life.
Successful networking is not as frivolous as it may seem.
It is an art that can open doors for you that remain closed to others, but only if you can demonstrate how your proposition can help others achieve their goals.
- Thembe Khumalo Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Thembe on Twitter www.twitter/localdrummer or visit her facebook page www.facebook.com/localdrummerzw