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Heather Townsend

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What makes a great networker?


Heather Townsend identifies 14 behavioural success factors which define great networkers.

Is it possible to identify the defining behaviours which make up a successful networker? Can the ordinary trainer learn the traits of these successful networkers? That was the question I set myself when researching for my book The Financial Times Guide To Business Networking.

In more than 30 hours of interviews, with networking gurus such as Ivan Misner (founder of BNI and the Referral Institute), Andy Lopata (founder of BRE and co-writer of And Death came third), as well as ordinary people who were great networkers, I was able to identify 14 success factors common to all successful networkers.
"The best networkers attract people towards them, and they are the sort of people you enjoy spending time with." 

1 Be selfless and generous

Good networkers believe in something called abundance, that there is always enough to go around. Very often business people and job hunters believe the opposite is true - they assume that there is only a limited amount of business and jobs to go around. This can lead to competitive and aggressive behaviour, which damages credibility, reduces social capital and literally stifles opportunities from networking activities.

2 Be "always open for networking"

Great networkers don’t see any boundaries between their personal and professional life, or online and face-to-face networking. They are literally always looking for opportunities to network and help someone.

3 Be interested in people first and foremost, business second

Good networkers know that networking is not about selling, it’s about getting to know people. Brad Burton deliberately built 4Networking with the principle that if you get to know people first, opportunities will follow. The rapid growth of 4Networking within the UK, demonstrates that this principle is working, as business is flowing between 4Networking members and their networks.

4 Be positive and enthusiastic

The best networkers attract people towards them, and they are the sort of people you enjoy spending time with. I found that the great networkers I spoke to in my research tended to be upbeat, positive and generally enthusiastic about the future and what it held for them. As a result it was easy to spend time getting to know them.

5 Be focused and disciplined

Focus and discipline is a crucial trait for all great networkers. It’s focus and discipline which:
  • Makes sure the follow-up happens after a networking event.
  • Gets them out of the house on a wet winter’s night.
  • Enables them to maintain an effective level of visibility at the forums, social networking sites and networking groups they frequent.

6 Cultivate a win-win mentality

Networking works best when the people you are networking with have a collaboration mindset, that is they are always looking for the win-win. It’s linked back to the abundance principle. If you truly believe that there is enough business (or jobs) to go around, you are always looking for a win-win outcome for the people within your network.

7 Be brave

As we grow up we learn social etiquette, but also form perceptions of people based on their position, perceived authority and experience. We can often fall into the trap of seeing the title rather than the person. Great networkers only see the person, not the title and are always brave enough to have the conversation which will make a difference to their career or business.

8 Be committed

When someone recommends you or gives you a referral, they are placing their reputation on the line for you. To risk their reputation or credibility for you, they want to know that you are committed for the foreseeable future to what you are doing; whether continuing within employment or your business’s strategy and offering.

9 Have a willingness to experiment

The only things that are certain in life are change and uncertainty. Businesses grow or decline; people move jobs, networking groups change. This means that new opportunities to network will always be just around the corner. It’s this willingness to experiment which means that the great networkers always seem to know where to spend their time to get the best return on their efforts.

10 Be curious

The best networkers are inherently curious. They are curious about people, businesses and new experiences. This in-built curiosity helps them seek out opportunities, for example, new networking groups or sites, for themselves and others in their network, but also find areas of common ground to build rapport with people that they meet. 

11 Be tenacious and persistent

Many people make the mistake of starting to invest in their network at the point of which they need it, such as at the start of a job hunt. Good networkers are investing in their network all the time, rather than waiting until they need to call upon their network.

12 Be authentic

Your relationships, and therefore your social capital, depend on your authenticity. Great networkers achieve their results on the back of building up strong and "real" relationships with the people that they meet. This means that the more authentic you can be with the people you meet, the more likely you will generate mutually beneficial relationships.

13 Seek first to understand

Consistent opportunities only come through a network when relationships have been built. The best way to lay a solid foundation in a relationship is to consciously take the time to listen and understand.

14 Act like the host

When you are at a networking event, be it in person or virtually, you can choose to wait to be introduced or take the initiative and do the introducing. Social networks are now so big, that it is normally ineffective to wait to be introduced. Great networkers, seem to have no fear, and take the initiative and introduce themselves to the people that they want to meet.

Against this list of 14 success factors, how do you compare and how do the people in your company compare?
Heather Townsend is the author of The Financial Times Guide To Business Networking. Over the past decade, Heather has worked with more than one hundred partners, coached and trained over 1000 lawyers, accountants and other professionals at every level, within the UK's leading and most ambitious professional practices.She specializes in working with professional services firms and is the founder of The Efficiency Coach.

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Heather Townsend


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