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You Need Authentic Connections: How to Reframe Your Network Narrativeby@scottdclary
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You Need Authentic Connections: How to Reframe Your Network Narrative

by Scott D. ClaryJune 14th, 2023
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Networking is the art of building relationships for professional gain. The right connection can hook you up with your best job yet, on your highest salary to date. As an entrepreneur, networking is your lifeblood; it's your gateway to greater success. But here's the problem – and I know you're thinking it – networking is really freaking hard.
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Ever heard the phrase, "Your network is your net worth?"

I totally get the sentiment – but at the same time, I think networking should be so much more than the prospect of cash in the bank.

If we're honest, networking is far more complex and demanding than a simple monetary exchange. It takes time. It takes trust. It takes vulnerability. 

When networking just isn't working for us, usually, the reason is a lack of authentic connection.

Cold outreach messages are often forced; conversations at networking events are awkward and clearly transactional. Don't even get me started on LinkedIn!

I propose we take a new approach to networking. If you really want your authentic self to shine through – if you truly want to make helpful connections that last – it's time to reframe networking and take a more meaningful approach. 

Let's talk about it. 

Our Flawed View of Networking

Networking, as you know, is the art of building relationships for professional gain. 

A powerful connection can hook you up with your best job yet, on your highest salary to date. The right referral can get you much-needed VC funding to launch your startup off the runway.

As an entrepreneur, networking is your lifeblood; it's your gateway to greater success. In Ronald Burt's words: "Instead of better glasses, your network gives you better eyes."

But here's the problem – and I know you're thinking it – networking is really freaking hard. It's like this strange social dance where you know you're being obvious, but you don't know how else you can do it. 

Why is it so awkward? Let's unpack some of the warps in our perception of networking. 

Misconception 1: You Are the Product

I'm convinced that one of our biggest barriers to networking is the way we try to 'market' ourselves. You aren't a product, you're a person, and the mindset of ‘selling yourself’ will only strip away your authenticity. 

For example: when you network on a regular basis, it's easy to find yourself rattling off the same script about your work or your experience. You might copy-paste the same blurb from one LinkedIn conversation to the next. 

But a sales script runs the risk of looking disingenuous – especially a copy-and-paste job. The reality is that networking isn't about selling yourself; it's about forming a connection first and foremost. 

Misconception 2: It's All About the Benefits

“If we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we won’t succeed. We can’t pursue the benefits of networks; the benefits ensue from investments in meaningful activities and relationships.”

Adam Grant hits the nail on the head here – intentions are everything, and if you're networking only for the benefits, you're going to struggle. 

It's easy to get caught up in the idea of what someone can do for us. The messaging around networking is very much benefits-focused, so it's no wonder we approach it that way.

But it's one of the worst things we can do for ourselves.

In the social world, you'd be frowned upon for making friends with someone just to get something from them. So why do we network that way and pretend it'll work in our favor? 

Misconception 3: You Need to Be Interesting

No, you don't need to be interesting – you need to be interested

Our problem with networking comes from our overly inward focus. We spend so much time and energy stressing about how we'll come across to the other person.

Is our pitch nailed down? Are we dressed professionally for the meetup? Did we use too many exclamation points in our outreach?

But in ruminating over all of these tiny details, we forget the most important factor: taking an interest in the other person. 

“The single greatest "people skill" is a highly developed & authentic interest in the other person,” said Bob Burg. That's the skill we need to be honing. 

People can very easily tell whether you're interested in what they have to say; there's a certain energy in genuine interest that can't be faked. 

What's the Fix?

Believe it or not, 70 percent of jobs aren't published on boards or via the main application portals. Investors don't walk around with 'VC money!' tattooed on their foreheads.

Opportunities don't always slap you in the face. 

That's why networking is so important: when you're connected to your industry, you're tapping into support and opportunities and advice most people don't even know is there. 

But as I said, our big misconceptions about networking are holding us back from success. It's time to take the unscripted and unconventional approach (aka, it's time to build real relationships!).

Strategy 1: Ditch the Scripts and Take an Interest

The reason that networking can feel so 'yucky' or 'salesy' is because, as I mentioned earlier, we're often taught to approach it with a script.

We're taught to get our pitch sorted, and then send it to as many people as possible.

"Hi, I hope you're well! I just wanted to reach out and introduce myself – I'm a business owner in LA, and I am looking to make new connections within my niche. Would you be interested in meeting up?"

Bleh. Even the most oblivious person can tell what you're trying to do here, and it'll only make you feel like a salesperson. 

This is the moment – before reaching out, before making a connection and a time investment – to really think about the person you're connecting with.

What do you have in common? What work are they doing? How are they innovating in their space, and what values do they seem to prioritize? 

Your network should be made up of people who you truly respect and admire and whose work inspires you.

An interesting person will prompt you to naturally write a more authentic opening message – you'll be expressing your genuine interest in the person and their work rather than shoehorning a sales pitch. 

Strategy 2: Accept the Commitment

While a casual conversation on LinkedIn is proven to be pretty effective, networking is rarely a one-time effort. Building meaningful connections takes time, just like any other friendship. You need to build mutual trust.

Studies show it takes around seven months to properly build trust with people. (It takes a split second to lose it, so keep that in mind, too!)

That means you're really playing the long game when it comes to networking.

Again, it's in your best interests to connect with people you genuinely resonate with – because you're building a real relationship, not just a one-time exchange. 

It goes without saying that networking isn't the same as job hunting. You should be forming connections with like-minded people and developing your network over time (not looking for a quick fix). 

Strategy 3: Strive for Generosity

“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” – Keith Ferrazzi 

Let's completely flip the narrative. What if you were to approach networking with the mentality of 'what do I have to offer?' 

When you network with the intention of giving, it's incredibly freeing. Know your worth and your experience, and find people who could benefit from connecting with you; more often than not, the pure act of giving will unlock a new level of opportunities. 

Going back to strategy two, there's no better way to build trust than to give before you receive. You're saying it loud and clear: I'm not here to gain, I'm here to connect. 

Strategy 4: Be Unconventional

There's no rulebook for networking, and yet, we all act as though we're bound to certain customs or etiquette. You don't need to confine your outreach to LinkedIn (even though it's a great place to start). 

Follow your prospects on social media to stay up-to-date on their latest accomplishments. Respond to a story that resonates with you – leave a casual note, and see if it blossoms into a conversation. 

When you're writing messages to potential connections, throw out everything you know about the typical outreach script and follow your instincts. 

Based on their personality and interests, what's going to spark their curiosity?

If someone is clearly down-to-earth and super friendly, the last thing you want is to lead with 'dear [name], I hope this finds you in excellent health!'

Speak their language – but more importantly, let your own authentic personality shine through. Are you a contractions person? Use contractions. Is your sense of humor intact?

Throw in a joke or two if they come naturally. Drop little hints as to the kind of person you are. 

Wrap Up

When it comes to networking, I'm a firm believer in forming honest, authentic relationships – not transactional ones. It's all about your approach.

Network for the sake of meeting people and expanding your knowledge of the world; don't just network to get a free ride.

Some of the most incredible connections I've made in my life were through networking efforts, and I've made my fair share of blunders, too. I know from experience that being authentic is your greatest weapon.

Taking a vested interest in others is your ticket to success. 

Any other thoughts on how to network well? Drop a comment below or reply to my email – I'd love to hear more!

If you enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you.

Reply to this email or tweet at me @ScottDClary and I’ll do my best to get back to everyone!