NETWORKING AS AN INVESTMENT STRATEGY

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Building social capital is a long-term investment.

Some people only see the value of networking when they’re seeking a new job. Those people are wrong. Not only is consistent networking beneficial should you ever find yourself in the job market, it’s a long-term investment that can help you grow your career at any given point in time.

When you put time and effort into maintaining strong relationships, you’re creating something with long-term value. Among those who study social networks, that value is called social capital. To define it more precisely, social capital is the value that individuals get from and deliver to the network.

The businessperson providing resources to colleagues, getting to know them as people and helping them solve problems is creating social capital, as is the political leader who forges personal connections and builds trust with leaders of other countries. They’re creating a valuable asset on which they can draw later, when they’re the ones in need of resources or support.

I watched an interesting video of an interview with Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, in which he made the following statement, “Every person today is a business, so the question is . . . How are you handling it?”

Undoubtedly, you see yourself doing business, but do you see yourself as a business — or a brand — within your respective field? Further, are you effectively managing your personal brand?

A while back, I was in another country visiting some high-level executives in an organization, and I mentioned I was attempting to meet a particular country manager of a Fortune 1000 company with whom I could envision a relationship of mutual benefit. They said they knew him well and had a meeting coming up that I was welcome to attend as a tag-along.

The next day, I accompanied two of them on a visit to the country manager’s office. This person’s last name lent itself to the nickname he went by, “Goz.” When we met, everyone exchanged the usual courtesies. After our introduction, Goz said nothing more to me as we all went into his office.

While the three of them talked business for half an hour or so, I discreetly scanned his desk and walls for any sign of a way to “break the ice.” Against the background of items representing business accomplishments, one item in particular stood out. It looked like a customized stuffed animal made by a child in an effort to portray Goz — sort of a caricature of his business persona. I can’t do it justice with my description, so I’ll just say that it was cute, the kind of cute that only children can express.

When my associates concluded their discussions with Goz, they told him I had a perspective of possible strategic value to his organization and asked if he would mind taking a little longer to hear me out. He agreed.

Knowing his time with us was almost over, I had a choice: get personal or get business. I immediately chose to get personal. I first thanked him for his time, and then politely asked if I could call him by his nickname.

After he agreed, I said, “Goz, if you don’t mind, before I begin, I’ve noticed that stuffed animal over there seems to be a caricature of you. Would you mind telling me what that’s all about?”

His demeanor toward me immediately relaxed, and he laughed heartily. He said, “You know, that has been on my desk for many years, and no one has ever asked me about it before.”

At the conclusion of our business discussion, he agreed to provide access to his people and expressed an interest in working together for our mutual benefit. When we left his office, my associates started laughing all over again. They said they couldn’t believe what they had just learned about Goz — and they had never before seen him become relaxed so quickly with someone he had just met.

Making an emotional connection with others is the first step to building social capital with lasting value. If you understand the need to manage yourself as a business, you understand how crucial it is to develop sustainability by providing value to others over the long run — not only if and when you’re looking for a job.

Mike Muhney, is the co-creator of ACT! software, and the “Sales Connection Expert” at MikeMuhney.com.

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