Networking Expert Heidi Roizen on Making Business Connections That Matter

In business, how skilled we are at building networks of friends and colleagues can determine how successful our careers are.

Renowned professional networking expert Heidi Roizen has mastered the art of building and maintaining smart business connections that matter. Today, her insights help women in the workplace to establish lasting connections and professional success, even in an era when people are more likely to communicate impersonally via tweets and Facebook posts.

Heidi, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Stanford lecturer, says professional networking is an art that takes time. We recently sat down with Heidi at the Adobe & Women Leadership Summit and asked for her thoughts on entering business relationships intelligently, using social media as a networking tool, and making smart decisions to maximize connections as you build your career.

You’ve talked about how networking is more than just collecting a bunch of names. What are some things people should consider when trying to make lasting connections with other professionals?

Successful business networking begins when you decide to deliberately build relationships that matter. Far too many people view business engagements as pure transactions.

It’s about finding the people in your life who you may or may not interact with over and over again. If they were interesting enough to meet and engage with in the past, they may be someone with whom you may have an interest in the future. If you think “relationship first — transaction second,” and make that your mindset, you’ll get more out of it.

Social media is great for building connections, but it can often mask genuine intimacy. What are some ways you think social media is beneficial for networking, and what are some pitfalls people should avoid?

Social media isn’t a replacement for true intimacy or a substitute for face-to-face interaction, but it is a way to learn about someone and find your points of mutual connection.

Social media has its drawbacks, too, because every word you post online can be scrutinized. I think many people don’t realize that there’s a double-edged sword to social media, which is that you will be judged by what you put up there.

I’m very conservative about my online presence. I will post things about companies that I’m proud we’ve made investments in, but I like to control what the world knows about me. Everyone should think about their social media presence as something that your employer can see. It’s really important to be careful.

What social media channels are the most beneficial for networking?

Everyone should have a current Linkedin profile — and not because you’re looking for a job — but because if you’re going to have a meeting with someone, they want to figure out who you are, what credentials you have, what professional organizations you belong to and what school you went to. That’s your business billboard.

Your social profile is your way to say, “Hello, here’s who I am.” Craft it in the right way and it could open the door to new business opportunities.

Once someone has built these connections, what’s the best way they can leverage their professional network?

Sometimes a connection can lead to an introduction or open a new door. While it’s fine to ask your network for favors, the key is to be respectful of their time.

Make yourself as easy to help as possible. Most people don’t think that through. Think about the fact that you’re reaching out to a busy person. How can I ask them for help in the most efficient way? How can I make it easy for them to help me? Making yourself easy to help is one of the tenets I talk about when I discuss networking, and there are so many ways people make it difficult.

When people ask me for a favor but they’ve obviously minimized the use of their own time and have tried to put more of the burden on me, that’s not a favor I’m inclined to do. But if someone has taken everything into account and they say, “here’s the attachment you need,” or “here’s a pre-written email,” and all I have to do is hit forward, that makes things much easier. If I’ve agreed to make an introduction for them, that is really a lovely, packaged way to let me help that person efficiently.

In an interview with Stanford’s Graduate School of Business you discussed the idea of human capital. Why do you think relationships built on giving are so powerful?

With professional networking, it’s so important to practice genuine giving. I believe that by starting with an offer to help, you’re invoking the rule of reciprocity, but you’re also saying “I have value to give to you, and I’m willing to give it to you with no expectations.”

Everyone has something to offer, and there are always ways to be helpful. Giving with no expectations involves taking time to get to know the person you want to help. It’s about understanding their interests and what they value.

The idea of going into it being a giver and not expecting that everyone is going to owe you something is the genuine way to do it. Adam Grant has this great book, “Give and Take,” about this topic. I really believe that it is human nature and it also works. Why not start with that?

A lot of your insights into relationship building, like what you said about framing things as reciprocity, should be common sense but so often they aren’t. Why do so many people struggle with this?

Professional networking, building business relationships, and making human connections in our work life would seem to be common sense. But unfortunately common sense is not that common.

I think part of the reason that it isn’t is because we’ve been taught to separate our business life from our personal life. I don’t have a “Business Heidi” life and a “Personal Heidi” life. I am just Heidi. I am the same person all of the time.

It’s a bunch of common sense, but why is it that when we get our business personas on, all of a sudden we don’t think that way? I don’t understand. I’m so excited about this movement of people moving back toward this idea of an integrated life — a work-life integration.

It’s so important to be your authentic self and show up as your authentic self. Humans are relationship-oriented by nature. It’s how we survive as a species. But somehow it has been abstracted in a way that I think is unhealthy, and so I’m happy to see it coming back together again.

What’s the key thing you want everyone to keep in mind about networking?

Networking is all about relationships, but we can sometimes fall prey to the power dynamic of these relationships or what we anticipate getting because of them. It has to be about a genuine give-and-take and about believing you have something to offer. I think people need to understand that we’re all humans and we’re all doing the same thing, so you have to think to yourself,  “I am worthy, I deserve to be here, and I’m just as good as everyone else.”

The Adobe & Women Leadership Summit is one of the ways we’re working to drive greater diversity and inclusion worldwide. Learn more about our diversity initiatives here.

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