Networking is not about collecting business cards and shaking hands. It’s about exchanging experiences, ideas and assets in order to add value to the lives of other people. When you approach it from the perspective of what you can give and not what you can get, it changes the dynamics of how you approach new relationships. Use these three tips to perfect your networking skills and become a master at adding incredible value.

Know What You Want

In order to be effective at networking, you have to understand your current goals. You may be looking to transition into a new career or looking for new clients for a business.  Whatever your current goals are, you need to be keenly aware of what you need to accomplish them. It’s very frustrating to meet a lot of amazing people only to discover you have no real reason to connect with them further. Having goals gives you a reason to connect. Your goals should be specific and actionable. Networking is great for helping you make a “next step” versus a “giant leap.” Knowing exactly what the next major thing is for you to do to reach your goals is critical to making them happen. I get very frustrated when I meet people with great long term dreams, but don’t have a solid action plan to help them move forward in the short term. When you know where you are going, it’s easy to find the people to help you get there.

How to Apply

Make a list of three current goals you have personally or professionally. Next, using, search for events or communities that can help you accomplish them. For example, if you are looking for new clients for your cleaning service, you may use the website to search for business-to-business networking meetings that may help increase your clients. I would also recommend visiting your local chamber of commerce’s website for opportunities as well as searching for Facebook and LinkedIn discussion groups about a subject.

Build Contextual Relationships

Remember in English class when you had to identify sentences in passages that were out of context? Based on what the passage was communicating, you could identify what belonged in the structure and what did not. The same applies to building your network. Pursue connections that are aligned with where you are going. A vision is only as great as the community that helps bring it into reality. Relationships without context never produce a purpose. The best way to build meaningful contextual relationships is to offer value first. Once you start meeting new people, find ways to help them get to where they are going. I have had the amazing opportunity to build relationships with several friends who have ultimately led me to new business opportunities, clients and even career opportunities. Although I would have never initially foresaw these relationships leading to the opportunities, having them in my life has opened up numerous of doors.

How To Apply

One of the things that I suggest in my book is to write down the five people you are closest to and identify how much value they add to your personal and professional life. Relationships are very transactional. The better the relationship, the healthier the exchange. Every good opportunity that has ever happened in your life is probably attributed to  the people in your life. The same applies to every bad one. After you have identified your closest network of friends, take some time to write down seven to ten of the most recent opportunities that have accelerated your goals. Next, consider the individuals who were responsible for those opportunities and write them down. If you discover that the people you are closest to and the people who have brought opportunities in your life aren’t the same, you may need to reconsider your group of friends.

Network Everywhere and Often

Don’t limit networking to simply events and parties. Do it at Walmart, Facebook groups, restaurants, coffee shops, and everywhere where there are people to talk with. Opportunities are only limited by those who limit themselves. If you expand your mind to consider other points of connection to network, you may open up possibilities you never knew existed.  I remember meeting the CEO of one of the largest marketing companies in Tulsa while helping a friend at a coffee shop and meeting the CEO of Chick-fil-a Dan Cathy while visiting a local restaurant to grab a sandwich! If I never stopped to ask him who he was (didn’t recognize him before then), I would have never gotten to meet him. Your ability to network in unconventional places can be one of the most valuable assets you have.

How to Apply

Begin to intentionally approach new people with casual conversation throughout your daily activities. Instead of waiting for someone to approach you, approach them, greet them and then ask them about their day. This may uncomfortable at first, but the more you do it the more you get used to it. I usually try to find common points of connection for conversation starters. For example, if I am at Walmart, I may take a glance at what they bought to strike up a conversation about my thoughts about the product. Or if I am at a restaurant and I see a seemingly interesting person sitting alone, I try to ask them about their meal and start a conversation from there.

Networking does not have to be scary or awkward. Your goal isn’t to sell the people you meet, but to sow seeds of value into their life. The more you make your interactions about the other person, the better chances you will have of building a meaningful and lasting relationship that will propel you forward for years to come.

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