I was recently having a discussion with a friend who wants to grow his reputation in his industry, and desires to be seen as one of the local "experts" in his field. He knows that I have written a book on the topic of networking and business relationships ("Some Assembly Required: How to Make, Grow and Keep Your Business Relationships" will be released by New Year Publishing in July 2005. More information on my book is available at www.thomsinger.com), and decided to buy me lunch to get some free advice.
In the course of our ninety-minute meal together, I listened to his hopes of becoming a well recognized name and was surprised by the short time frame that he thought this could be accomplished. He felt that if he focused on networking for a few months, that by the end of the summer he could be seen as the "Go To Person". He has always worked hard and knows that the people whom he has worked with think highly of his abilities, but he has never spent any time networking outside of his company and small circle of business associates. He believes that his work should speak for itself, and for him to go out and promote himself was equal to bragging. He wants people to seek him out because he is GREAT, and could never see himself as the type who could "blow his own horn". In addition, it was clear that he sees the world as having two kinds of people, those to whom he can sell his services and a bunch of other people who do not matter.
I am not sure that he was happy with the free advice that he heard from me at the end of our luncheon, but he did ask me for my input so I told him what I thought about his views of building a network.
To start, he looked at the whole process as something that could benefit his career. Never once, even when I brought it up, did he address what he could do to assist others in his network. His whole focus was on growing his own reputation with the end result being more business for his company. If your motives are selfish, then your return on the time invested in networking will be limited. You must see the "give and take" relationship of networking, and be committed to give more than you get. Especially in the beginning.
The second point was that he was going to have to accept some level of self promotion. If he did not let others know what it was that he did, and did well, then there would be no way for the word to spread. While some folks might sing your praises for a job well done, not everyone will. Therefore you must find ways to help get that message out to the public. I aggreed that bragging was not a good plan, but I suggested that he start writing articles for some business journals and other trade magazines. Additionally I told him to start a blog where he could write short bursts of information that solidified his position as an industry expert. He quickly criticized the idea of writing articles of any kind, because he believed that it took too much time, and he stated that "you don't get business from having articles published." He told me of how he had written articles early in his career and his phone never rang. It was clear that he did not understand the importance of investing the time and having diverse ways for his message to reach clients and prospects. It was also evident that he wanted a magic bullet that would bring him fame and new business opportunities. I explained that if it was easy to become that "Go To Person", everyone would do it.
Finally, my friend wanted to build a network of professional contacts in too short a time frame. He knew that I had developed a decent reputation, and wanted to do the same thing. But the fact is that I began my dedication to networking a decade earlier. For the first five or six years I was just some nice kid who showed up at a lot of events. It took me a long time to actually build friendships with a variety of people who now know and trust me. My advise was to accept that building a true business network will take three to five years of dedication, and then the rest of your life to cultivate those relationships.
I don't think this guy liked any of what I told him. He thought he could accomplish his goal by September, and could do it without the investment of too much time or money. I'll check back with him in August. My guess is by then he will be over the idea of networking, and will downgrade the importance of having these types of business connections. I have discovered over the years that people who want to take shortcuts rarely succeed. Building a network and a professional reputation takes time. Be patient.
Have a great day.