People network for many different reasons and most have more than one purpose. Some of the more commonly cited reasons include finding new opportunities, finding a job, help with career, building your reputation, raising your profile, making new contacts (especially sales contacts), finding a mentor (or someone to give advice and/or support), etc.
Whatever your reason, you need to be very clear about it and what you want to get out of networking. Knowing exactly why you are networking is important from three perspectives.
Firstly, it provides direction and focus for your networking. Most people’s networking efforts concentrate on collecting contacts – building the number of connections. But in networking, quality is far more important than quantity. Having hundreds of people in your network is pointless unless they can help you achieve your objectives, whereas having just a handful of people who can help you get what you are looking for will.
For example, a network of family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, former classmates, etc, can easily contain over a hundred people. If your objective in networking is to have a support network, then this would be an excellent network. However, if you are looking for a job as a trader in a bank, then unless one of these people can introduce you to a person in a bank who employs traders, they offer no value to you.
So you need to ensure that the people you are trying to attract to your network are people who can help you achieve your objectives. This will also provide focus as to where you should expend your networking efforts. Where do the people who could help you ‘hang out’? Do they go to certain events? Do they participate in particular forums on the internet? Do they blog or use Twitter? Wherever they ‘hang out’, you should too!
The second perspective in knowing what you want from networking – and the benefits you expect to get from it, is motivation. Networking takes effort and brings most people out of their comfort-zone, especially face-to-face networking. Knowing precisely what benefit you will get from networking provides the motivation to go and do it – you know the payback exceeds the cost of the effort.
The third perspective is if you don’t know exactly what you want from networking, people can’t help you achieve it! You might have many willing and helpful people in your network, but if you can’t tell them what you want, they can’t help you get it.
So make sure to put some thought into clarifying your objectives for networking.