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Social Capital: A Love Story

If you’re anything like me, you have a love/hate relationship with networking events. Don’t get me wrong—I love meeting new people and hearing their brilliant ideas and interesting ventures, and I certainly love complimentary wine.

My problem is this: I’m a recent college graduate so for the past four years networking events meant dealing with nervous overachievers competing over who could best regurgitate their resume to a disinterested businessman who was only there as a personal favor. I thought things would change when I entered the “real world,” and they did, but not in the way I had hoped. In the “real world” networking events often seem to be synonymous with singles mixers.

Just last week, I was at such an event trying to explain the concept of MeetAdvisors and asked a guy what he was an expert in, to which he smugly replied, “Well, I’m an expert in love, but that’s not what I do for a living.” How embarrassing. 

To say I was exasperated is an understatement, but then I met with Sean Lyons, and he changed my whole perspective.

Lyons is the founder of Triad Real Estate Partners and is on the Board of MeetAdvisors, but besides that, he knows something not many of us do: the secret to successful networking.  Lyons let me in on a lot of things I wish they had told me in school, and now I’m going to give you a crash course:

Meet likeminded people: There are people out there who don’t care about networking, and there are people out there who see the true value of it. If you’re among the latter, be sure you’re mingling with people who share your overall view of the world. Being likeminded doesn’t mean you have the same political or social views; it means you have the same landscape views on life and a similar moral and ethical code when it comes to business and how you treat other people.

The first step to successful networking is to figure out your own personal philosophy and worldview. Lyons explains that about one out of ten people you meet with actually “get it” (the “it” being your view, whatever that may be), and the goal to successful networking it to bring those ratios down to meeting one out of one, or one out of two people who “get it.”

This is done by asking people you connect with a simple question: “Based on what you know about me, who else in your network do you think would be a good person for me to meet?” Once you get it, the next step is to give it.

Be a “go-giver”: One book that really influenced Lyons in his networking endeavors was Bob Burg’s “The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea.” The concept is simple: instead of networking with people because of what they can do for you, ask what you can do for them. (If you recall, JFK proposed a similar notion during his presidency.)

Lyons operates on a karma-based belief system: if you continually work to put good out into the world with a positive approach, the majority of the people you help will feel like they want to help you in return.  Put simply – Always Offer Before You Ask.

Discipline: Lyons is strict with himself—he makes sure to meet one new person every day. His rule of thumb is if he hears a name three times, he reaches out to that person, either via LinkedIn or through a mutual connection.

He also makes sure to keep in regular touch with his connections, turning many into close friends. This is how Lyons has been able to personalize his network: he looks for opportunities, reaches out, and makes it happen.

Lyons thinks of his network like a plant, and so should you. In order for it to grow and thrive, you need to water it, prune it, and nurture it on a daily basis. It’s a living organism, and the minute you neglect it, it begins to wither.

The Specific Ask: It cannot be stressed enough that networking is futile if you don’t know what you want to get out of it. If people don’t clearly understand how they can help you, they won’t help you. It’s that simple.

When you’re talking to somebody you wish to add to your network, you should be able to tell them the following: who you are as a person, what you do professionally, the kinds of people you like to meet, and who/what you need. And as previously mentioned, do not forget to ask what you can do for them!

The Vouch: This is a step that takes some time, but it’s an important one nonetheless. The vouch is exactly what it sounds like: you have grown your network and made an impression on some well-connected people. You’ve helped them out, and they’re grateful. Suddenly something bigger will start happening. They’ll be at a business meeting, or out to lunch, or having a drink with their friends and in the middle of a conversation they’ll suddenly say, “You know who you need to meet?” (Spoiler alert: the answer is you!)

That phrase is one of the most powerful phrases in the networking world, and there is nothing more beneficial than a credible vouch. But be warned: it works both ways. If you want to maintain credibility among your network, be wary of the introductions you make. Be sure you are making them for altruistic reasons, not just to name drop or make yourself look good.  It doesn’t reflect badly on the person you’re introducing to a top executive, it reflects badly on you.

Consider your “Social Capital”: This final point is a big one. Lyons is a strong believer and a big advocate of “Social Capital.” Think of every interaction as a deposit into your social bank. Just like our financial accounts, we want our social bank accounts to be plentiful and overflowing so when the time comes to make a withdrawal, it won’t leave us destitute.

Lyons has plans on writing a book about the value of Social Capital, and when he does I can confidently say that in the spirit of being a “go-giver,” I’ll be first in line to buy a copy for everyone I know.

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