Networking 101

By Ismail Abdur-Rahman, CEO iVIBES

By now, I'm sure you've heard the adage: your network determines your net worth. And if you allow me to channel my inner Robert Kiyosaki, "The richest people in the world look for and build networks. Everyone else looks for work." So, it goes without saying that if you want to build a dynamic corporate career or become a successful entrepreneur, you're going to have to work on building a strong network.


For as much as you hear people talking about the importance of networking, it's somewhat surprising that I meet so many people who really don't know what it means to network or how to do so effectively. Since there are so many networking opportunities available in the summer, I'm going to give you a few tips on how to network effectively to reach your career and entrepreneurial goals. In this post, however, we will just focus on identifying different networking styles, and a slightly more detailed explanation of networking strategies will be covered in a follow up.


Networking Styles

The Schmoozer
In this approach, you basically try to charm people into connecting with you. This approach doesn't work for everybody. It truly requires the gift of gab, but you have to be authentic. There is a very fine line between being charming and being Eddie Haskell. The last thing you want to do is come off like a used car salesman. If you're naturally shy or aren't a great communicator, this might not be the best approach for you, especially if you're easily tongue-tied.

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C'mon, don't tell me you don't remember Columbo, the long-running detective series starring Peter Falk. Columbo had an unparalleled way of investigating all angles of a crime and filling in the information gaps to solve a mystery

In this approach, you do a lot of research about the person or company you want to connect with, learning everything about them that will help you find the best values alignment or skills fit. Of course, you'll want to be strategic in not only gathering your information but also sharing it. There's a fine line between looking like a prepared professional who's done your homework and looking like a stalker. 

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6 Degrees of Separation
You know that theory that states that everyone in the world can be connected to any other person through relationships with six or seven other people (and Kevin Bacon)? Well, according to Microsoft, it's true, so use this to your advantage when networking.

Perhaps the person or company you want to work with is a bit out of your reach for a direct approach. One thing you could do is look at people and companies they are connected to (especially if these are vertical relationships) and begin approaching these tier 2nd and 3rd tier. If you can sell your unique value proposition (what makes you so darned special that a major company should want to work with you), then immediately work your tail off to deliver value over and above the expectations that you've set.

Building up a track record of success with these network connections and strategic partners can bolster your chances of eventually getting to your original target, especially if you can get these network connections to not only recommend you to your target company or individual, but to also pound the table for you as active promoters of you or your company. Having credible references that champion your service delivery is the best marketing you can get when trying to make the leap into the big fish pond.


Big Willie Style
In the 'hood, we have a saying: "Game recognize game" (alternatively, "Real recognize real"). Basically, when you have people that occupy the same space, they are easily able to recognize one another's talents and achievements.

So, let's suppose your aim is to get an industry leader to work with you. You'll want to craft a strategic plan to become wildly successful, such that you are recognized as a superstar in your niche. Obviously, this can yield tremendous results. Of course, this is not going to happen overnight, but let's look at it this way: you want to network in order to increase your likelihood of personal and professional success, and you recognize that just getting the introduction is only the first step along the path to success. You're still going to have to put in work, so be patient. And hustle. Hard.

There is something that I need to mention about this approach, though. I have noticed that for people who take this approach to networking, by the time they reach the level of success that would make networking in this fashion easier, they are generally no longer interested in working with the people or companies they had originally targeted.

My guess is that the reasons for their original target selection had less to do with skills and values alignment and the desire to create a synergy for a greater impact than it had to do with getting something from the individuals or companies that would allow them to reach their goals. I caution you to think carefully about your motives, as nobody wants to feel used. Besides, if you have sincere motives, it's easier for you to craft an authentic brand story that will make you interesting and easier to connect with.


One important thing to note about these networking styles is that they are not coded in stone. In fact, few people only use one style; most people tend to use 2 or 3 these, depending on the circumstances. Choose the style that best fits your personality and will allow you to convey your brand story authentically. 


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