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How a new approach to networking can help your career

In the pre-social media age, I quickly found that it took a lot of time and effort to start and cultivate those relationships, and they needed the right environment to prosper. I also observed that, all things being equal, people prefer to do business with people they like and trust, and you’re not going to get that sort of rapport at the first meeting.

Over time, I developed a nuanced method for creating mutually beneficial professional relations, and that became the foundation of the workshops and coaching I now offer.

My approach is based on these principles:

  • having a clear intention about what you’re looking to achieve
  • targeting the right events and groups
  • building a relationship systematically over time with a person through constant touch points that are relevant to them, not just pitching
  • not treating people as a commodity or a referral lead
  • being open about what you can offer
  • leading with value
  • knowing that in due course the opportunities will come to you.

Importantly, you should always have in mind the reason for you being somewhere. If you don’t know why you’re there, what your objectives are for being at the event or for joining a group, you’ll flounder. For introverts, having a reason also gets you on the front foot psychologically speaking; it really empowers you and will help you decide where to invest your energy, time and money.

Of course, you also need to be able to tell your own story. When I first started out, sometimes I found people saying: “Phillip’s a nice guy, but I don’t know what he does.” That’s not really helpful if I’m hoping for introductions to new clients, or want to build my reputation.

In an age of different professional cultures and languages, you need to be able to find that lingua franca that builds bridges.

So I learnt to keep front of mind some stories about what I had worked on, or who I had worked with, and I could mention them depending on who I was meeting. If it was someone from the Taxation Office, I’d use the one talking about the government clients I worked for. If it was someone from the RSPCA, then I’d use my not-for-profit example. This meant I could convey something of my expertise and make myself relevant to the listener at the same time.

I also got into the “favours” business. I’d make a point of introducing people to others I thought they’d get on with, opening doors for them, and building up goodwill so that I became the go-to person who could help with connections.

A NEW TAKE ON NETWORKING EVENTS

In time I created my own events, which eventually evolved into a successful professional community, aptly named “Schmooze”. From 2003 to 2012, it grew to several hundred members hosting several events each month in Canberra and Melbourne.

A key aspect of Schmooze’s success was its personalised approach, and the way its get-togethers didn’t feel like a “traditional” networking experience. The mindset was different from the get-go. People could be themselves and feel supported. From those encounters things could grow, sometimes into life-changing business and career opportunities. I’ve found that online only gets you so far; the good stuff happens in the real world. As humans, we still need to look people in the eye.

“I’ve found that online only gets you so far; the good stuff happens in the real world.”

Of course, meeting the right people is only one half of the equation. The real work is in maintaining and nourishing that relationship over time, not just expecting something to land in your lap.

These days I travel through several professional worlds, each with its own forms of connecting and professional vernacular. I work as chair of IML’s ACT Regional Advisory Committee; as a consultant or facilitator to different organisations, where I have to adapt to each organisational culture on the fly; or as a representative of fine art auction house Mossgreen, where sensitivity and discretion are key.

Consciously cultivating my “networking” skills over the years means I now have an organic repertoire I can call on in all these situations. I am able to subtly adapt the way I interact with people I meet, so it’s comfortable and effective for everyone.

In an age of different professional cultures and languages, you need to be able to find that lingua franca that builds bridges. So while I was forced to get out of my comfort zone all those years back, now I can take that zone wherever I go by being myself.

Phillip Jones is a consultant and regular speaker on professional relationships and networking. He is also the Canberra representative for fine art auction house, Mossgreen, and the chair of the Regional Advisory Committee for IML in the ACT region.

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