Networking without really meaning to

photo-352Dorie Clark is an excellent networker. The author of the new book Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It, she seems to know everyone, and she introduces people too. I’ve now been to two of her business book author dinners, one in NYC, and one in Philly. The Philly one was my maiden voyage out of the house after giving birth this January, so you can tell how good I thought it would be.

So I was intrigued to learn that she just released (with little fanfare) a short ebook on connecting called Stand Out Networking. In it, she shares her secrets — and also managed to make me feel like I might be a “networker” too.

To back up a bit — I am not much of a traditional networking type. I’m an introvert, and I find talking to lots of people tiring. I have set a goal to get out of the house and go to more things, because I generally do make good connections when I do, but it’s always easier not to. I know that being connected to lots of people is important for spreading the word about issues I care about. But the whole business card thing….eh.

Dorie quickly busts the myth that the exchange-business-cards-and-flee thing is networking. That’s the amateur version. “Others can sense that sharklike attitude,” she says. Instead of that word networking, “we could really just call it developing and maintaining connections with cool people.” Networking is when you “meet people on your own terms, connect with them deeply, and turn those relationships into fuel for a better life.”

“Fundamentally, it’s about how to be a good person in the business world. You need to look out for others and defer short-term personal gain in favor of long-term relationship building.”

That I can get behind. And it turns out that I’m already doing many of the things she suggests. First, I don’t have professional contacts. I have friends. I really like a lot of people I have met over the years who do similar work. We hang out, have drinks, go to karaoke, visit when we’re in town, do playdates, etc. Networking doesn’t just have to be about professional connections; Dorie uses the example of getting what turns into a favorite family recipe from someone in the supermarket line. And yet when I think about the people who have written about my book, many of them are people who fall into this category of friends. I like them as people. Book promotion is an awesome side effect.

She also notes that writing or blogging (or podcasting, which she does) is a great strategy for meeting people you really want to meet. I hadn’t thought about it this way, but in any given week, I’m probably reaching out to half a dozen people to ask for 15-20 minutes of their time. It’s as if I were asking for half a dozen informational interviews weekly. If I did that, I’d be a consummate networker, always buying people coffee in exchange for picking their brains. The way I’m doing it though, people are more likely to say yes!

Small gatherings such as Dorie’s dinners are generally more effective than “traditional cattle-call gatherings” that “fool us into believing we’ve been productive, when we’re actually wasting time with an untargeted approach,” she writes. I’ve certainly learned to try to organize small gatherings (lunches, dinners, etc.) at conferences as a way to guarantee I’ll see the people I want to see. Anything else is serendipitous, not expected. I should probably do more of these.

Of course, there are ways I can improve, and she has suggestions. If you are going to a big event, then be sure to go all in. It’s not about the number of events you go to. “You don’t necessarily have to network or go to events all the time. You just need to think about how to maximize the times you are networking,” she writes. She recently went to an event for business leaders. She followed up with everyone afterwards and asked to interview them for her Forbes blog. She got fodder, and actually deepened what could have otherwise been tenuous connections.

Networking will never pay off in a week, she writes, but most of us are in this for the long haul. I already feel like I know a lot of amazing writers and editors, and I meet more all the time. And I’m 36 — I have at least another three decades of this to go! “Like meditation, you’ll fail if you try too hard or go too fast,” she writes. “Instead, learn to relish the process.”

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