Extend Your Network Through Higher Learning

Extend Your Network Through Higher Learning

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Signing up for an MBA or taking a course in project management, finance, leadership development or another business-related area of interest is one of the best ways to grow your business and personal networks.

In his book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi says he learnt that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful. It was about working hard to give more than you get. If you do something to make someone else more successful, he says, they’re more likely to value your relationship with them, and the more relationships you have with value in them, the more valuable you become, not only to yourself, but to employers, customers, partners and so on.

Become a Networking Whizz

Our society has become very good at asking: ‘What’s in it for me?’ Most networkers look for others to pass them referrals, but successful networkers are always looking to help others first.

Don’t keep score, Ferrazzi advises. If someone calls you up and asks for a favour that you can easily accomplish, do it and don’t look back. If you are going to take the time to connect with somebody, you should be willing to try to make that person successful. If they succeed, you succeed. He also makes the point that networking is largely useless unless you have goals.

Networking experts note that you should begin reaching out to others and building your network of contacts before you need anything from them. Don’t try to suddenly build a network when your business is about to close down — it simply won’t work.

Here are some simple ways to start building a network that’s meaningful:

  • Join community groups that interest you
  • Take leadership positions in hobby or business groups that interest you
  • Enrol in a class on a topic of interest
  • Become part of business groups in
    your field
  • Join an entrepreneurial network

Often business owners go to an event to network and end up making the mistake of selling. They walk in with the mindset of a hunter instead of a farmer. Networking is about cultivating business relationships, not gaining customers. If business owners walk into a networking event thinking ’look at all of these potential customers‘, they’ll never receive referrals. Ferrazzi calls that ‘being a networking jerk’.

Networking and Higher Learning

Higher learning institutions like the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) host business and social functions to create a climate for discussion and interaction. Attendees are brought together by the desire to build business relationships, gain further understanding of the fast-paced business environment and share best practices of innovation and leadership.

Community website MBAconnect.net is for MBA alumni, current students and faculty from all the business schools in South Africa. MBAconnect facilitates networking, events, job opportunities, knowledge-sharing and more. Members can interact with other MBA students and alumni, market their services, build their brand, find job opportunities, and share ideas and challenges.

Connecting Online

Sam Paddock, MD of GetSmarter, an online education company that works with universities and industry experts to present courses throughout South Africa, says people learn best in strong communities. GetSmarter strongly promotes communication between students. “By requiring our students to interact on our discussion forums, we encourage them to build relationships with their fellow students. As the community becomes stronger, so too does the students’ engagement with their learning materials. Paddock says this is particularly important in distance learning programmes. “Motivation and engagement in distance learning is inherently challenging. By creating a strong community, our students become more engaged in their learning activities.

“We have been able to achieve phenomenal engagement on our forums. Some of our courses have over 6 000 discussion forum postings from 120 students in a 10-week period.”

Paddock says networking online is simple. “Just start writing. It’s the only way people will discover your interests and begin to engage with you. Browse through your fellow students’ profiles and start conversations with people who have something in common with you. It could be that you live in the same area or that you share a common interest. People are most open to interacting with you when they are aware of some common ground.”

Keeping in Touch

Once you have a connection with someone, it’s important to get their contact information. As you talk to people, keep track of their names, titles, emails, phone numbers, organisations, meeting dates, and key points of information and advice. You’ll need this later when you are no longer studying with them but still want to maintain a good relationship. Remember, these are the people who may be able to pave the way for you in future when you need a recommendation or an introduction.

One of Ferrazzi’s central ideas — from which his book takes its title — is that a meal provides an excellent opportunity to connect with someone. If you’re eating alone, he says, you’re missing out. He suggests mixing and matching by inviting multiple people to eat with you from different parts of your social network, which can help build new connections and bring hidden ones to the forefront. This is a particularly attractive option for people who are studying further as campuses provide the perfect environment for socialising.

Because networking requires you to socialise, make yourself interesting. No one wants to spend time with a boring person. Beyond keeping up with current events and having a point of view on current issues, Ferrazzi suggests asking seemingly stupid questions, always being open to learning something new and trying new things, and taking time out for holidays and other activities that grow your mind.

Avoid being a networking jerk

Here are Keith Ferrazzi’s six rules for making sure you network well:

  1. Don’t schmooze. Have something to say, say it with meaning, and focus on establishing a few good connections than spending your time surfing the room.
  2. Don’t rely on gossip. It paints a picture of untrustworthiness.
  3. Be willing to give something away. Think of bloggers who give away content to their readers freely.
  4. Don’t treat those under you poorly. Ever.
  5. Be transparent. If you want to meet someone and are happy to meet them, say so.
  6. Don’t be too efficient. Make genuine, individual connections. If you’re going to take the time to touch base with a contact, write to that person individually, don’t just include them on a big ol’ email to hundreds of people at once that starts off with “Dear friend!”
Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.