My friend, Marla, is starting her own business. The other night she asked me best practices for networking and how to target her market effectively. She wanted to know how to build influence and be seen as an authority in her ﬁeld. I always cringe when people use the word networking. Because I don’t believe in networking.
I asked Marla, “Have you ever been to an event or party with me? What’s my behavior like?”
“It’s funny you say that, because if I remember correctly, we met at a party.” she said,“You were sitting in a corner all alone, and I went over to ﬁnd out who you were. I think we talked for over an hour. It was one of the best conversations of my life.”
“Here’s the thing," I told her. "I love people. I adore them. I love hearing their stories and getting to genuinely know them. But traditional networking events usually emphasize quantity over quality. You know that feeling you get when you walk up to a group of three or four strangers already engaged in conversation at an event? You feel a bit awkward and maybe even a little anxious. At some point, if they are polite, they will turn to you and ask your name and what you do for a living.
"Now you’re in the spotlight, performing for a group of strangers who are all determined to one-up each other in the who’s who game of success. Even if you walk out of that event with 200 business cards, you still will be less successful than if you made one meaningful and genuine connection. That’s why, if I’m not working an event for a client, you’ll ﬁnd me sitting in a corner of the room waiting to make meaningful connections -- one-on-one.”
I went on to explain to Marla why I dislike traditional networking, and I shared my rules for creating real and lasting inﬂuence.
Traditional networking functions on a set of core beliefs that just don’t resonate with me or the way I do business. I call these the traditional networking myths. Some popular myths include: “It’s all about quantity, for the more people you meet, the more successful you’ll be"; "It’s about meeting the right people; seek out and befriend the most successful people in the room"; "It’s all about leverage, don’t waste time on people who can’t help your career," to cite a few.
It’s easy to spot people who believe in these myths, because they are looking over the shoulder of the person they are talking to in case someone more "important" walks into the room. We tend to become like the people we hang around with, and I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to surround myself with people who genuinely like and care about me, rather than people who only are concerned with status and social climbing.
My 10 rules for creating real and lasting influence:
1.) Make the people around you more successful than you are. Some roads to success are longer than others. But taking the time to make the people around you more successful than you are is the single best strategy I’ve found for creating real and lasting influence.
In his book, "Greater Than Yourself," Steve Farber details what he calls a "GTY Project." The idea is to ﬁnd one person in your life and raise them above yourself. Openly offer them your knowledge, resources, connections, and time to help them achieve their goals and yes, become infinitely more successful than you. I’m working on my own GTY Project right now, and in the process I’m learning to be more humble while ﬁnding internal confidence I never knew I had.
This idea can work on a broader scale too. Always be on the lookout for big and small ways in which you can help the people around you. Maybe it’s introducing them to someone who would be a great client, or referring them for a job, or re-tweeting one of their blog posts. Follow Chris Brogan’s "12:1 Rule." Promote 12 people for each and every time you promote yourself.
2.) Realize quality matters more than quantity. Over the years, I’ve learned that quantity doesn’t work for me or my business. I literally have piles of business cards. Thousands upon thousands. People often remark that I seem to know everyone. That statement can be misleading.
The truth is, over the years, I’ve built some very deep and loving relationships with some extraordinary people. Most of these people I met by chance. Some are famous. Some are even household names. I didn’t pursue relationships with them because of what they’ve accomplished. I pursued relationships with them because of how awesome and genuine they are to be around.
I know a lot of people, and to know a person you have to know his or her hopes and dreams and passions. And that takes time and effort. I spent years building the relationships I have. They didn’t happen overnight -- because they couldn’t have happened overnight. Forget about the numbers, and focus on the people.
3.) Learn what real influence means. Influence is not a competition you need to win. It’s not a popularity contest, and it’s not about power. Influence is a non-zero sum game. Generosity, engagement, admiration, reciprocity, dialogue, and integrity are the concepts you need to master to be influential.
4.) Realize the pie is bigger than you think. Rather, there is no pie. Abundance. Repeat after me, “There is more work to go around then there are people to do it." Stop seeing opportunities for building Influence or for becoming successful as ﬁnite. They aren’t.
5.) Discover "Co-opetition" rocks! I’m grateful to have started my business in Houston, Texas where "Co-opetition" or collaborative competition is an accepted and mainstream business practice within the tech and startup communities. Both my best friend and my mentor run companies that from a conventional standpoint would be considered my direct competitors.
We don’t see it that way. Because we believe in abundance (see rule No. 4), and because we have an intense mutual respect for one another, we ﬁnd ways to work together on projects. And on more than one occasion we’ve referred business, speak opportunities, and even media coverage to each another.
6.) Understand that credit is infinitely divisible. Remember how there is no pie? Take time to acknowledge the people around you. When you share credit with others, chances are when the time comes, they’ll share credit with you.
A word of caution: It’s always nice to be acknowledged, but if you’re involved in a project for the kudos, you’re in for a long and disappointing ride. (See rule No. 9.)
7.) Be vulnerable. To connect deeply with another person you’ve got to be human. This is tough for a lot of people, especially in a business or professional setting. Learn how to tell at least one story from your childhood about how you became the person you are today. Share a personal truth (I’ve found that my own personal truths are often universal). We’re much more alike than we are different, so this is a powerful way to bond with another person.
8.) Know that everyone is important. Really. My friend, Marc, once said, “It’s better to let other people blow your horn than to toot your own." Don’t waste what little time you have to make a connection with someone, only to talk about how great and important you are. Find out how great they are instead.
Look them in the eyes. Give them your full attention. Be present in the moment. Practice mindfulness. Mean it.
9.) Have a higher purpose. Tara Hunt’s book, "The Whufle Factor," encourages people interested in leveraging the power of social media and social capital to “Find Their Higher Purpose." I agree. My business partner, Sloane Berrent, has found a way to combine her talent for PR and social media with her love of doing good and making an impact in the world. Her company, Answer With Action, specializes in cause-based marketing. She’s just one of many social entrepreneurs popping up all over the place.
Today, it’s not enough for your company to offer a great product or service. If you want to cultivate real influence -- you have to do good and make a difference in the world. Let your passion be your power (a tip of the hat to Hank Wasiak).
10.) Understand business cards don’t matter (read the book). One of my good friends, Francisco Dao, former Inc.com leadership columnist and author of "Killer Attitude," wrote the best book I’ve ever read on influence.
If you’d like a PDF copy of his latest book, "Business Cards Don’t Matter," please send me a request via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter: @ericaogrady.