Ever felt used? That’s because it’s fairly easy to tell when someone is only talking to you because they want something. So, while there are many benefits of networking, you’ll have much better luck when you focus on what you have to offer another professional rather than what you have to gain.
Absolutely everyone has something to offer. It doesn’t matter if you’re still in school or work in the mailroom. Your experience has value. After all, data is the new currency and your brain is filled with it. Here are five networking assets you have and can leverage today.
1. Consumer Insight
Offer free market research by discussing your experience with his/her product.
As a member of society, you participate in the consumer market. You decide where to spend your money and how much you are willing to spend for a certain good or service. Even as an infant you influenced your parents’ purchasing decisions with your preferences for bottles, toys, and diapers. You evaluate and consume purchases uniquely from any other person. Think of the power you have as a slice of profit for companies who are competing for your approval.
Not only are you unique, but you’re also untainted. Employees of any given company are unable to see their own product with fresh eyes. Over-exposure has changed what they value, feel, and believe about their product.
Salespersons, customer support representatives, marketers, advertisers, product developers, designers, entrepreneurs, and even upper-level managers want to know how they can win your sale. If you want to connect with someone in these roles, research his/her product or service and offer your candid impressions.
If you already have purchased from their company, think about your experience and ask yourself these questions:
How did I find out about the product or service?What it easy to research? What did I want to know? Did I find the information I wanted?What factors did I evaluate and what mattered most in my decision?Was it easy to purchase, transport, unbox, assemble, install, setup, learn, and use?Did it fulfill its intended purposes? Did it fulfill unexpected purposes?What influences or circumstances affected my decisions?
Warning: Offering constructive criticism is helpful, but be careful to not be insulting. Start sentences with “Have you ever thought about…” or “I would’ve liked if…” Don’t forget to discuss what worked well and why, too.
2. Insider Perspective
Use your company-specific experience to help others collaborate within, improve, and succeed at your company.
Potentially anyone within your own company could be interested in the details of your day-to-day dealings. Coworkers make the most natural connections because there’s an equal “give and get.” The more they know about what goes on in other pieces of the company, the better they can make educated decisions. When their insights help you succeed, they are credited with excellent cross-departmental communication. It’s a win-win for all sides.
As demonstrated by the show Undercover Boss, executives who drive the big picture can get out of touch with the details of their own business. Your insider perspective can be a voice for efficiency, innovation, integrity, and morale for your company. On the flip side, those down the chain from you want your take on the path to leadership in your company.
Your experiences with your current employer would also be useful to various outsiders. Obviously, don’t share any proprietary information. Instead, share your unique viewpoint to help jobseekers who are interested in your company or in a similar career path to yours.
3. Promotional Influence
Spread brand awareness of his/her company by sharing their content with your network.
If you’ve ever asked a friend for recommendations or read reviews before buying a product or service, then you know that peer-to-peer influence is strong. Your network trusts your opinions, which is more persuasive and individualized than many paid ad campaigns. Just like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, you can also influence people to win friends.
In practice, promoting a business or individual is easy. If you have personal experience with a product or service, write a review on Yelp, Facebook, or Google. You can also follow the company’s social media pages and like, comment, and share their posts. To support one person (versus a company), you can share a LinkedIn article or post written by that individual. Whatever you do, always be honest about your opinions. The last thing you need is to lose the trust of others in your network just to win over one person.
The main beneficiaries of this approach are entrepreneurs, thought leaders, social media influencers, employees of small businesses, and leaders of web-based companies. These individuals benefit directly from how your efforts support their businesses. When a company is just starting out, every online impression (or web interaction) counts for brand awareness. You are helping to build the momentum of their Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
4. Product Recommendations
Fill his/her needs by endorsing quality products or services you use.
Cost-saving recommendations are just as profit-friendly as the revenue you could drive from promoting a business. For example, if you tell four friends about company ABC and they each spend $20, company ABC makes $80 in revenue from your efforts. On the other hand, company ABC could also save $80 in expenses if they use the excellent accounting service you recommend.
For your same line-of-work peers and same industry peers, your experiences with relevant vendors and products can save them from wasting time and money finding the right solution. Remember all those questions from the Consumer Insight section? You’ve already gone through that process to find a solution that meets your needs. In turn, you can eliminate that testing phase for someone with your same needs.
Things to recommend: software, service providers, tools, materials, methods, etc.
If you don’t have what he/she needs, connect them to someone who does.
One step above making recommendations is aiding in the related acquisition. In plainer terms, help the person with whom you want to connect get what they want. Often, you can do this by introducing them to someone you know.
Here are some examples:
Give him/her the number of your go-to mechanicSend his/her resume to the hiring manager at your companyTalk to your business card printer about a reference discountAsk a family friend to talk to him/her about their careerAsk your lawyer to take him/her on as a clientAsk your CRM developer to move him/her up on the waitlistAsk your tech-savvy friend to give him/her a brief training on a new softwareAsk your realtor to help him/her weigh the pros and cons of a purchase
If you feel uncomfortable asking for favors, then don’t! Sometimes all it takes is a simple email introducing the two connections and explaining the reason you thought to connect them. Unsolicited givers become unsolicited receivers. In other words, someone you’ve built a true relationship with will automatically do what they can to help.
If nothing else, you can simply offer to take your connection to lunch so you can meet up and chat. Whatever you offer, have a sincere desire to help a fellow professional and build a strong foundation for future collaboration.