Issue 9: How to Network Successfully (And Actually Enjoy It)
I used to consider myself an introvert.
Growing up, I was quiet, shy, had only a few good friends, and even fewer strong relationships. People are surprised to learn that about me given my business and entrepreneurial pursuits, which have allowed me to meet thousands of people around the country and the world. I get to host two podcasts, which requires a lot of talking to others. I wrote an Amazon best-selling book and am in the process of writing another. Best of all, I get to lead an incredible team here at Paradigm. My life today doesn’t exactly paint the picture of a guy who used to be socially awkward.
So what changed?
I learned about the true value of relationships and how to gain them through meaningful networking. It changed my life and I know it can transform yours.
In my experience, it is not the principle of networking that stymies effort; it is the misguided approach that fails to produce the intended results. I believe successful networking will transform your relationships, your business, your finances, and your overall quality of life. During these challenging times is the greatest opportunity ever to network and help a lot of people.
Why Do Most People Despise Networking?
When you think about networking, do butterflies appear when visualizing an ”elevator speech”, superficially nodding your head in conversation at a dinner party, or obsessing over having the perfect business card? I don’t blame you.
There are two primary reasons the approach to networking goes awry.
We’re Not Taught the Nature of Good Networking
During my junior year of college, I had an awakening of sorts. I was enrolled in one of the more challenging economics classes—econometrics. The curriculum was focused on economic modeling and the relationships between different economic phenomena. The math went right over my head and I was lost in a sea of regression models and polynomial functions.
Like many of you, I had a formal education. I was taught and conditioned that results in school were derived from individual effort and that working with others was cheating. We’re expected to not just learn the wide spectrum subjects, but to excel at each of them. We’re not taught much about the power of teamwork, relationships, and networking.
If you think about it, the notion that merit comes from individual effort alone goes against the progression of civilization. Most major achievements are the result of individuals serving in specific roles within a group that possesses an aligned purpose and objective.
The principle that efficiency of a system is improved by the division of labor dates back to the times of Plato. From that point in time to our present day, theorists continue to push the limits of efficiency. Today, society and the quality of life as we know it are impossible without the contributions of others. I could not write to you without the use of my computer, made possible by individuals who possess skills and knowledge I can’t begin to contemplate. The delivery to you would not be possible at such scale without my team here at Paradigm, the internet, email, and a website—other complex systems that are well outside of my wherewithal.
Still, society has conditioned the belief that individual effort is the ideal and group effort is cheating. If you replace that limiting belief with an empowering one that identifies the unique talent, skill, and experience of the individual effort operating within the framework of a team or group with a unified objective, you get one of the most profound forces in business and one of the catalysts to wealth.
I aced that econometrics class because I sought out other students who had a better understanding of the complex mathematical functions than I did. I sat by them in class, helped to organize a study group, brought pizza, and asked good questions. It was there where I was able to connect the dots among different people’s strengths, non-strengths, learning styles, and their enjoyment of achieving as a group, not on individual merit alone.
Over the course I’ve time, I’ve discovered there’s only a tiny slice of the whole pie where I excel. There are other slices where I can get by, and the rest of the pie I’m better off letting those with expertise handle. It’s the same principle taught in an idea I discuss in Heads I Win, Tails You Lose, the Human Capital Statement. To be truly successful, you need to know your Human Life Value assets and focus on strengthening them. You also need to be ok with identifying what you’re not good at, and recognizing that others do possess those assets.
Awareness of your strengths and non-strengths allows you to focus, be more productive, and make a bigger impact.
Networking Seems to Go Against Human Nature
As human beings, we’re wired for self-preservation and naturally inclined to look out for our own self interests first. If your motive for networking is “What can I get,” it will undoubtedly feel scammy. If you ask a different question, “What can I give,” a new world opens up to you.
I define networking as the activity of seeking out relationships and opportunities where I can add value.
Back in 2008-2009, I thought my business wasn’t going to make it. It was a very humbling time. At my lowest point, when I had all but given up on myself, I changed my focus. I decided to seek out ways to help others, regardless of there being an exchange. After all, what did I have to lose?
I was hosting a lot of webinars at the time and teaching anything I felt was relevant. I came in contact with a dentist in Phoenix who was days from filing for bankruptcy because he was in default on his primary residence mortgage that amounted to double what his house was worth at the time. The situation didn’t sound right. He was current on his other obligations, including those of his dental practice and even had some cash assets that would be taken in bankruptcy. I decided to research the recourse laws for the state he resided in, which defined what actions creditors could take in the event of default. Sure enough, his state had a non-recourse law, which meant that if he defaulted completely on his mortgage, the bank could not go after his other assets for the deficiency (the difference between what is owed and what the property was sold at auction for). He didn’t file bankruptcy, which would have been worse than the being foreclosed on.
This is one of many experiences where even though I sought out ways to help, regardless of any benefit to me, the individual ended up doing business with me a year later. During this same period of time, I connected with a group of real estate investors and we formed a partnership by adding the use of whole life insurance as part of a holistic wealth strategy. Over the course of almost a year, I worked with over 100 investors. This is when the Wealth Maximization Account™ was born.
It also led to the best networking experience I’ve ever had, the Investor Summit at Sea. The Summit at Sea is an annual cruise hosted by The Real Estate Guys. I was invited to attend and speak about the benefit of using a Wealth Maximization Account to acquire real estate investments. It was the first cruise I’d ever been on. I still have my presentation recorded (it was horrible, by the way) but my intention in going was simply to teach. I didn’t expect much out of it, I was there just for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wanted to discover what people needed and learn how to help. I ended up forming lifelong relationships.
Searching for What Other People Want
It may sound altruistic, but my years of professional experience have proven to me that serving others really is the best way to get results. I also learned that building relationships is a skill I excel at. Me, a former introvert, pursuing expertise in relationships! Who would have thought?
My first lesson in professional relationships occurred during an internship I did with the Hartford Public School System in Connecticut. It was a temp position that I hoped would lead to a full-time job of executive secretary for the bilingual department. The department went through multiple interns over the course of a few months before I arrived because the head of the department was perceived as difficult to work with. While I was there I realized this woman was just misunderstood and wanted to feel valued.
You absolutely cannot assume that you know what other people need.
In any relationship the cardinal sin is thinking the other party wants what you want. That isn’t always the case. One of the worst networking experiences I’ve ever had was at a dental conference some years back. I didn’t know what challenges they faced, but I incorrectly assumed I did. I presented over the course of two days and got nothing in return. In retrospect, I didn’t even try to understand their wants and needs. I went into the conference with too narrow of a focus and my own singular perspective.
The Law of Reciprocity
The key to networking successfully is laying the groundwork for an exchange to happen. If it’s a one-sided exchange, whomever you’re trying to network with will likely think they’re getting a bad deal. I think of all the requests I get to “connect” on LinkedIn. Only one in about 50 actually has something of value to offer. The rest just seem to want something from me.
A while back, I was chatting with my friend and mentor Tom Wheelwright at an event. We were both speakers slated to present that day, and I told him I felt like I had butterflies in my stomach before going on stage. He said it was because I was focused on myself, not focused on the audience. I wasn’t thinking about what the audience wanted and needed. Internally, I wasn’t trying to create value for them; I was worried about how I would be received and how my presentation would benefit me.
In order for the law of reciprocity to work, the focus can’t start on you.
I guarantee you will help someone at some point who isn’t able to reciprocate at the time, but they’ll feel like they need to reciprocate, especially in business. It’s like when someone gives you a gift at Christmas and you haven’t bought anything for them. You feel like you have to get them something. Trust that people will reciprocate at some point.
I like to think of the 3-to-1 rule: Provide three times as much value as you take and you’ll become a networking guru. That said, there has to eventually be an exchange. Otherwise you’re just getting walked on. Both parties need to grow and benefit.
In my experience, networking functions best in the short term. Playing the long game is exhausting and can cause you to cast doubt on your own value if your efforts aren’t being reciprocated. The fact is, plenty of people won’t value you. Like the dental conference I spoke at, it can be a hard lesson to realize maybe you didn’t provide the value you think you did.
If you don’t already know how to be valuable, you have to go out and learn how to be valuable. Find opportunities. Seek out 10 people and offer your services to them for free. Ask for feedback and look for areas you can improve. When it comes to my book reviews and business endorsements, if I just went to random people and asked them to create value for me by leaving a testimonial or writing a review when I haven’t created value for them, that’s scammy. But if I’ve already given them something of worth, it’s time to call in the due.
Consider networking relationships like a bank account. You have to make deposits so you can withdraw funds when you need them. Don’t go into the negative. Build your resume and expertise to reflect the value of people you would like to network with. Without it, no one is going to bet on you.
Who You Know Matters
Anything that is meaningful to me is based on a relationship. I believe things have no value without people, and people aren’t meant to be by themselves. Meaningful relationships should exist in business in order for business to be successful. In fact, relationships in business are the fast-track to success. There is very little on earth that hasn’t already been achieved by someone else. Identify people who have achieved what you want and surround yourself with them.
In 1916, Henry Ford sued the Chicago Tribune for libel. Over the 14-week trial, Ford spent days on the witness stand answering questions to prove his intelligence. At one point, Ford became frustrated and stated:
“If I should really want to answer the foolish question you have just asked, or any of the other questions you have been asking me, let me remind you that I have a row of electric push-buttons on my desk, and by pushing the right button, I can summon to my aid men who can answer any question I desire. Now, will you kindly tell me, why I should clutter up my mind with general knowledge when I have men around me who can supply any knowledge I require?”
In past issues of The Donohoe Bulletin, I’ve written at length about personality tests like Myers-Briggs and the DiSC assessment. As important as it is to know yourself, it’s equally important to understand other personality types. What are their weaknesses and strengths? How do they process information, make decisions, and celebrate wins? How can your personality compliment theirs to make a more complete pie? Humanity thrives because we all bring something different to the table.
"You are the average of the five people you surround yourself with.” —Jim Rohn
There are so many different ways to view the world. The more you’re curious about understanding the people you know, the better you’ll be at networking. Who you know matters. Getting to know who you know on a deeper level matters even more.
Networking in Times of Social Distancing
With business conferences, conventions, and other common types of networking events on hold due to social distancing, how do you become better at networking right now? Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a huge hockey fan. Sometimes when I need a motivator to remind me of the benefits of working with a team, I go back and watch the movie Miracle about the 1980 United States’ Olympic hockey team and how their combined efforts won them the gold medal. It’s available on Netflix and Amazon Prime if you’re looking for something to watch tonight.
I’m also trying to teach my kids, now that they’re home schooled for the time being, about the importance of working in a group. One of the best conversations I’ve ever had about shaping the way kids value their individual talents and what they can offer a to collective whole came from an episode of The Wealth Standard Podcast with Peter Gray, a research psychologist at Boston College. I strongly encourage you to listen to the episode here.
For a good read about how influential your environment is, check out Family Fortunes: How to Build Family Wealth and Hold on to It for 100 Years by Bill Bonner. I also recommend the books Reinvent Yourself and Choose Yourself by James Altucher. He’ll be a guest on The Wealth Standard Podcast later this month, so keep an eye out for that as well.
Finally, peruse social media and look for opportunities. What problems are people posting about that you can help fix? What challenges are people facing? See if you can formulate a solution without expecting anything in return. Now is a great time to grow your network.
Like anything in life, things you despise often stem from a flawed perspective. Use this summer as an opportunity to change your definition of networking to the activity of seeking out relationships and opportunities where I can add value.
Go add value, and then expand your expertise so you can add even more. Focus on building relationships, find out what is challenging people and help. No one knows exactly what you know, and you have the toolkit to help others in a unique way that no one else can. Put it to good use.