By Craig McKim and Christian West
Some people are natural networkers. For others, networking is like flossing your teeth: You know you’re supposed to do it regularly, but for some reason, you never get around to it unless your gums start bleeding or you’ve got a big date starting in 10 minutes and you realize you’ve got dragon breath. It’s when you need it most that you get reminded that you haven’t been doing much networking lately.
Executive protection professionals are no different on this count than most other folks, and maybe even a little worse than some. Why would a bunch of self-reliant loners, many of whom are often off doing details on their own, spend their precious downtime doing something as unproductive as checking in with old and new contacts? Why would any self-respecting alpha wolf want to act like a social butterfly? Because connections are good for you. In addition to keeping you sane and reasonably tolerable to be with, they keep your career on track and even moving forward.
Craig states flat out that he owes any success he’s had to networking. Christian, who took his first EP class 25 years ago, still talks to that trainer, sends a lot of business to two former classmates who are now vendors, and stays in touch with another, who is the CSO of a Fortune 500 company.
We’re both getting psyched about the IPSB’s next Close Protection Conference, which will take place in Las Vegas 12-14 December. This is a great place for EP pros to network, and we encourage everyone who’s serious about their career to try to shine up their networking shoes and make the time to participate. This year, instead of just showing up and looking hopeful, we highly recommend that you try something new: Start upping your networking game BEFORE the conference. Six months out might seem early, but we think you could well see some benefits before, during, and after the few hectic days in Vegas.
So here they are, our top 10 networking tips for executive protection professionals. We’ll start with four tips that we hope will shape your attitude to networking, then move on to six things you can start to do tomorrow. Or maybe even today.
1 Remember that networking requires a long game mentality
If you want to harvest a lot of good crops in the fall, you’ve got to plant plenty of seeds in spring. If you want your money to grow, remember the power of compound interest. But you know all of this and are already saving for your retirement, right?
Like any other investment, you shouldn’t expect quick returns from networking. But if you get started and keep it up, you will see positive outcomes. The good news is that unlike squirreling a little money aside every month, networking sometimes does surprise you with quick results.
2 Build networking relationships without worrying about costs and benefits
Think of your friends, the ones that mean something to you. Did you sit down with a spreadsheet prior to those friendships and calculate the pros and cons of hanging out? Our guess is no – you just started doing things together and the friendship grew from there.
Try to move away from a transactional networking mindset (I give you this, I get that). Instead, network because it’s a nice thing to do. Networking isn’t about hitting people up for jobs, referrals or favors. It’s about building relationships.
Without doing all the things that BFFs do, you can at least try to be proactively decent. Help others if you can. Make an introduction when appropriate. Acknowledge others for their achievements. Send them an article or a blog you think they might like. Say hello and thank you. Even if you don’t land that next killer job through networking (and you will), you might just start to enjoy life a little more.
3 Be authentic but don’t be needy
Everyone respects authenticity. Owning your vulnerability is a first step to being authentic. Most people get put off by displays of neediness. You know all of this already but try to remember it when you network.
If you’re out of work or know you will be soon, there’s nothing wrong with looking for work. Quite the opposite. But you’re not going to improve your chances if you start every conversation with how hard it is to put food on your family’s table and how bad your last employer screwed you.
Tell it like it is, put yourself out there, but don’t put the other person on the spot to give you something he or she might not be able or willing to do. There’s a big difference between saying “I’d love to get your advice on where I’m at in my career right now, do you have a few minutes for a phone call/a coffee/etc.?” and “I’m unemployed and I really need a job. Have you guys got anything for me?”
4 Remember to smile
Do everyone a favor, not least yourself, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Thank you.
Like the old song goes, when you’re smiling (and not just baring your teeth to manipulate others), the whole world smiles with you. Even rock star EP agents like to smile and like others who smile.
So, when you walk up to one person or a group of people at the Close Protection Conference, it’s quite OK to smile. Go ahead and make a joke or tell a story that makes you look dumb if that’s what’s authentic for you. Often, the good connections start when the formalities are over, and people start to relax – not when they’re posturing positions of strength.
5 Prepare your infomercial in advance
Marketers and entrepreneurs call it “the elevator speech”. You can call it your mini-commercial personal value proposition or whatever you want to, just be sure to get it done: put together a few sentences that encapsulate who you are, what you believe in, and why that’s good. Be ready to fit these carefully crafted messages into the conversation without having it look like you tried too hard. Think of it like a kind of subtle calling card that you leave on the table, not a hammer that you interrupt others with or bonk people on the head with.
Yeah, it’s hard. That’s why some people swim through Shark Tank and others don’t. Try it out on your significant other, your mom, your dog, whatever. But do give it a little thought and practice before you get to an event like the CPC, where airtime is limited and there are plenty of competing messages!
6 Be interested, not interesting
Are you like practically everyone else and only pretend to listen while you’re working on your next quick-witted remark? Try to be different by actually listening. Give your empathy muscle a quick work out and heed the great Larry King: “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”
We know, we just told you to be ready to fire off that blurb that’s all about you. Now, we’re saying the opposite – shut up and listen. Well, nobody said this was supposed to be easy, did they? Actually, it is easy, and there doesn’t have to be any big contradiction between being good at tooting your own horn and being a good listener. Try it.
7 Be useful – or at least try to be
Don’t be that guy who always shows up at the party empty-handed. Stop by the package store, the flower shop, or the dog pound and pick up a little something for the host.
We’re not saying you should bring a pocketful of giveaways and hand these out at the CPC, or that you should constantly spam everyone in your contacts list with unsolicited messages. But you could think about sending someone in your network a blog or an article that you found and thought they would find interesting. You could make an introduction. You could invite them out for a coffee or a beer when they’re in town. Go ahead, be helpful and be creative!
Before you say goodbye to someone in your network (and this could be that person you just met two minutes ago), ask them if there’s anything you can do for them. Don’t worry, they’re not going to ask for a kidney. Chances are, they might not ask for anything. But they’ll remember your attitude. If they do ask for something specific, you can always say no or let it slide if it’s not something you’re willing to do. No matter what, giving is the first step to getting.
8 Follow up, follow up, follow up
Be smart about how you stay in touch with people you’ve recently met. After an event like the CPC where you can meet a lot of folks, try to follow up within a few days or a week. Don’t just follow up with the CEOs, directors, and recruitment people you associate with jobs – follow up with everyone. Don’t start making late night calls but do go ahead and send a short email or connect on LinkedIn. Ditto for others that you met a while ago but haven’t been in touch with for a while.
Some people use customer relationship management (CRM) software to do this, and there are even good solutions available for free that serve the needs of the nerdiest power networker. Most will be far less organized. Whatever system you choose, choose one and then be sure to make time for network follow-ups on a regular basis.
9 Reconnect if you do lose touch
Life got in the way. Or was it the spouse, the kids, the job? Anyway, all of us lose track of some people that used to be in our network. The very best networkers realize this, and do something about it: they reconnect, even if it’s been a long time.
Someone once calculated that the average person can maintain about 150 persons in a network. For some, that number will be higher, for some, lower. But let’s say you’re average. If everyone in your average network also has an average network, that adds up to a lot of potential connections: 150 x 150 = 22,500! We think that’s definitely worth following up and reconnecting with folks in your network – even if this cuts a few minutes from your time on Netflix.
10 Be consistently positive – and positively consistent
OK, this last one’s a bit of a mashup, but we had two things more to say and only one slot left on the list of 10. But we think these go together nicely, anyway.
First, to get the benefits of networking you really need to be consistent and make networking a habit. As we mentioned above, network before you need to, and you’ll never consider it a chore. Dedicate a little bit of bandwidth to it every day, every week, or however you organize your schedule, but do it.
Finally, stay positive. Constructive, confident optimism is contagious and will take you far. The opposite drags you down and is also a downer for others.
Looking forward to lots of great networking before, during, and after the CPC in December. Ping us with your thoughts and comments on this blog on social media – another great way to do some great networking, BTW!