“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” Maya Angelou
Todays’ wisdom message (and that thing that will save you time, money, and help you reach your goals) is all about the great power of networking. We’ve all heard the saying: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” While I would argue that it’s both, it was not until recently that I learned not only the power, but the necessity of a strong network.
About a year & half ago, I made an extremely difficult decision to leave my very stable, lucrative corporate career to pursue both love, and a true passion for exercise, nutrition, and building empowered people and organizations. As most of you well know, nothing skyrockets you into a state of personal growth like a significant life change. After resigning, I became acutely aware of both the power, and necessity of networking. If I wanted to shift my professional focus, I needed others. I needed a strong network . . . and not just to get the career of my dreams, but to LEARN. I needed a network that could help me understand the options, the pros & cons of various industries or organizations, what jobs are out there that I’m not even aware of, and so much more. Many jobs are not even made available to the public. If I don’t have the right network, I’m “SOL” as they say. This applies so far beyond a job. A strong, diverse network is a tool that can help with anything and save you tons of time & headaches. Through my network, I’ve almost instantly learned what apps to put on my smartphone, I got a CD to wipe out the contents on my old computer before donating it, and don’t even get me started on how much more challenging having an infant would have been had someone not told me about Chicago’s Bump Club. Get this: I have a friend who has started her own company, and her growing success is grounded on a network of professionals we used to work with, that have now moved on to various Fortune 500 companies across the country. She built relationships with them from the start, and now is leveraging those relationships to sell her service to major, major companies. She’s going to be a millionaire.
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As time passed, I recognized how networking could open so many more doors . . . or be the limit to my plans. For example, I’m currently working to write a nutrition book. In order for this to go anywhere, I’m going to need to rely on my network, which hopefully consists of people who know something about the process of successfully writing & publishing a book (not to mention the people I need to enroll in developing the content, graphics, ensure I’m citing my research appropriately, etc.).
It was during this process that a fairly obvious “ah-ha” came to me. To fill my needs, I automatically looked to my network: my cousin Kelly, a designer, and Paul, a former colleague who just published a book. Looking outside my network would take precious time. What if they weren’t even very good? How much would they cost? The only time I even thought about searching for professional expertise was when I had an outage in my network. Referrals and word of mouth is big business . . . and it’s fueled by networking. So you see, there are two wonderful sides to networking: Your network can help you in your endeavors, and being part of other’s network can bring in business or create opportunities you haven’t even thought of.
A very central, yet overlooked aspect of networking is authenticity. There are certainly some slick salesmen-type networkers out there who have realized mild success. However, by-in-large, networking for the sole purpose of getting something for yourself is fruitless in the long-term. The very best networkers who have realized great success through their networking skills have a genuine interest in the background and expertise of those they are networking with . . . and not just the big wigs. They recognize that everyone, no matter what their background or level in an organization, has value. It’s amazing the interesting, useful, time-saving things you can learn from a simple conversation with a co-worker, neighbor, or that gal standing behind you at Starbucks.
The great news is, you can (and should) always be looking to grow your network. Ask any Mary Kay consultant driving a pink Cadillac: you can meet people and grow your network ANYWHERE. You can go the traditional route and network with folks you are naturally around at work, church, the gym, etc. You can join new organizations. Many cities have organizations set up just for the purpose of networking. (Ever heard of the website meetup.com?) Just yesterday, I met a babysitter out watching the neighbor’s kids, and I took down her name & number. The trick is to get out of your comfort zone a bit & simply take an interest in meeting people. You’ll be amazed at the doors that open, even years down the road, from one simple conversation. Happy Networking!