Building a strong network is essential in many ways. It gives you the power to provide a well-rounded service to your clients and ultimately lead to more business. A well-oiled network operates as a full-circle. Not a triangle, but a circle.
Networking is NOT beginning a conversation with the sole purpose to gain opportunity. Shaking someone's hand so they can place a face with a name (with the intent to submit a resume) is NOT networking. This is called interviewing, and there is a HUGE difference.
To start a network, you have to understand what a good network looks like. In any industry, you can't do it all. It takes a team of people to provide a variety of services. Even if you just want to be a pilot, your clients will have multiple needs. If you can make life easier for your clients, they will keep coming back. The more people that you refer business to, the more clients will be circled back to you.
In aviation, some key players will make your network whole. If you are a well-rounded aviator, you'll be able to refer you clients to a tour operator when they visit Hawaii, to an aircraft broker if they want to purchase an aircraft, and to a maintenance facility if they need scheduled maintenance. If you are really on your game, you can even refer a nanny or housekeeper if they need such personal services.
My first introduction to a well-functioning network occurred several years before I started my flying career. Click the drop-down below Jan's Picture; maybe her example can spark some ideas about how to set up your network.
I was just a young guy trying to stake out a claim in this world. I grew up thinking I wanted to be a doctor, so I chose entry-level jobs to gain experience working with people and the human body. My first lesson in networking was when I started working as a personal trainer.
I had worked as a martial arts instructor my entire life, so coaching people wasn’t something new. I started working for the Spectrum Club in Los Angeles, a popular fitness center that trained pro athletes - Magic Johnson, The LA Clippers, and many other wealthy but not famous clientele.
After a year there, I started quickly making a name for myself. I was highly disciplined from my rigorous martial arts background and extremely motivated to produce visible results for my clients. I worked longer hours than any other trainer in the gym and yet, I was not the top-grossing trainer.
Why? Even though I ran circles around most of the other trainers and provided more extreme workouts, I was still not capable of out-performing the gym’s top trainer - a middle to late aged, fragile, slender woman who wasn’t even that friendly. She was stand-offish, walked with a slight limp, and you would never find her body style on the cover of Woman’s Health magazine.
So what made her so successful? You guessed it, a NETWORK. She had long-lasting relationships with body specialists of every sort. I learned this when she referred a client to me. She asked me to train one of her newest clients while she took the rest of the day off. I couldn’t figure out why she would want to give away business.
I had to probe. She said that our personalities would click. She still made a small commission on the training package sale, but that's when it dawned on me - she was a career trainer. She knew that short-term gains wouldn’t be as profitable as just focusing on WHAT is best for the client. I began asking her more and more questions. She was a tough cookie to crack, but eventually I learned a valuable lesson about networking.
If her client had back pain, she would refer them to a renowned chiropractor. She had an entire network of health and wellness specialists. From nutritionists to massage therapists to family psychologists. SHE HAD A SOLUTION for you. Not just any solution, but a customized connection and her affiliates were so good that she knew her clients would be in good hands. She did more than just refer. She would ask her client what time works best for them, and she would call the specialist, make the introduction, and schedule the appointment. Why would she spend all of that time solving other peoples problems for free?!? Inevitably, the clients of the chiropractor, nutritionist, psychologist, and massage therapist would also need a personal trainer. In turn, they would refer their clients back to her. If she couldn’t handle the business volume, she would outsource the labor to newbies like me.
The foundation of a stable network is built upon a purpose. Before you start pouring the concrete, you need to decide on a personal mission statement. Your mission statement should be driven by your ultimate objective and be supported by how you will attempt to accomplish that purpose.
I chose the name Five Star Helicopters for my flight school because it highlights the quality of service that I wanted to convey to my clients. Safety and professionalism are to be expected if the customer is given a true Five Star experience.
Consider a selfless mission statement that you can carry with you throughout the rest of your aviation career. Make sure it is compatible with leading organizations in multiple sectors.
"I want to secure a steady job that pays well and that allows me to fly a lot."
"I want to safely gather experience so that I can supply consistent, predictable, and dependable service to my clientele, thus allowing me the opportunity to live a fulfilled life and eventually give back to the community that I serve."
There are two types of reputation. Network reputation and customer reputation go hand in hand. While on the road to becoming a world-class professional, you'll be building your reputation. Be sure to dedicate hours of deliberate practice to perfect your craft.
Take into consideration that most of your reputation depends on what you do before the engines start as well as after they shut down. Success in this industry depends on your ability to provide a quality customer experience, so make sure to prepare for it.
Make sure not to destroy your entire reputation in one fell swoop by making silly social media posts.
Every interaction will have a life-cycle: a meeting, greeting, and an exit. Here are some tips to help you flow through that cycle and leave a lasting impression.
Use a basic understanding of human psyche to your advantage.
There is such a wide variety of personalities out there, so your approach needs to vary from person to person. All humans have one thing in common: we are inherently selfish by nature. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind when you make your introductions.
The human brain is designed to solve problems. Allow your new friend to do some or most of the talking as it provides an opportunity to satisfy the upper levels of basic human needs: autonomy and recognition. Pose a question and let them utilize natural instincts that everyone desires to exercise. You can also apply these tactics to gain buy-in from people in your organization!
When talking to people, remember that everyone has the same common goal: to provide quality products and services to their clientele.
Try to fill the voids in your network with individuals who will bring value and quality to the table. Word-of-mouth and street reputation is the fastest way to sift through the crowds. Once you meet a potential network partner, ask them why and how they came to be in their current position. If it is a good fit, the conversation will evolve organically and you will identify how you can work together.
Try to talk about Ideas for growth and development rather than yourself. Try to solve this problem: How can WE help each other satisfy a common mission?
After you feel the conversation has run its course, make sure to leave your new acquaintance with a positive impression even if you don't quite see a future. Always plant a seed; I have lost count of how many small interactions that have sprouted into great opportunity later on.
PRO TIP: Give the Gift of Time
Your time is the greatest gift you can give to someone. Always be generous with your time but don't be stingy with someone else's time.
What do their feet say?
"I want to go over there."
You need to exit with grace. Pay close attention to body language. If you can be intuitive, you will appear to have some level of social intelligence. The person you are speaking with probably won't be able to put their finger on it, but they will have a positive gut feeling about you. This will play a role in future referrals because they will expect that you will emit the same considerations with the clients they send your way.
Before you leave, OFFER them something. Ask for their card and say something like “I may have a client I can send you.” Or “I know of someone who would work great in your team.” If you can’t honestly say either of these statements, just give them your card and kindly tell them if there is anything YOU can do for THEM, don’t hesitate to call.
If you keep pushing on the flywheel, eventually your network will gain so much momentum that it'll be hard to slow down. You'll have so much business you won't be able to handle it all. The key here is not to be greedy, but to present the opportunity for others to join your network. You will have the chance to mentor others, and THAT is where the greatest job satisfaction is.
I'm not sure what happened to Jan, but I'm sure she is on a beach somewhere sipping on a tropical drink.
Comment below and share some of your experiences with networking!
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