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The most recent client of mine is a two-time best-selling author, consults with some of the top brands in the nation, and was recently named by Forbes as one of fourteen power women to follow on Twitter. She’s now my client because I listened to something she said.marykurek_1331407842_140

I’m naturally curious about people, so I’m fairly good at listening. Turns out curiosity isn’t a bad trait to have. In December of 2014, Marianne Stenger, education writer withOpen Colleges, published an article for edutopia.org entitled “Why Curiosity Enhances Learning.” In that article, she shares results from a research study provided by the University of California, Davis. Writes Stenger, “The researchers found that, once the subjects’ curiosity had been piqued by the right question, they were better at learning and remembering completely unrelated information. One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Matthias Gruber, explains that this is because curiosity puts the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it.”

Recently, I walked into a coffee shop to meet a friend. While we both stirred creamer into our brew, I noticed the shop had been renovated, so I turned to the new face behind the counter and asked if they were under new management. He responded “yes, the shop was bought by the owners of the restaurant on the waterfront.” Without even the first sip of caffeine to aid retention, I mustered a mental note. Moments later, as I sat chatting with my friend, who owns a legal services business, we began to brainstorm ideas on acquiring new clients for her business. It was at that point that the mental note turned into an idea for my friend. I said, “here’s a perfect opportunity for you to contact the new owners of the coffee shop, who have now expanded their employees, facilities, and risk.” She agreed that it was a good idea and said she didn’t even hear the guy mention new ownership earlier.

Being alert and hearing information in a different way is key to turning newsy bits and mentions from non-networking conversations into real opportunities, solid ideas, and doable actions. Think back to when you heard someone say that they were opening or closing a business, adding services, moving to a new location, changing vendors, creating a partnership, looking for help, writing a book, starting a new project, heading to a conference, having trouble with tech, changing careers, or taking on new professional or political roles. All would have been good opportunities to engage in networking with plenty of benefit to go round.

Over the course of a dozen days, I connected with ten professionals that crossed several industries and made fifteen introductions and referrals to help them with client, talent, marketing, and investor needs. (This doesn’t count the business it brought to me.) As referenced in the first paragraph, one of the contacts was an author and consultant who works with major brands on issues of social concern. I connected her with a New York Times bestselling author who is a TED speaker, and was named one of ten most powerful women to watch by Forbes last year. Both women operate from missions of greater good for humankind, and I felt strongly that they should meet. They thought so, too. What prompted the introduction was a comment by the consultant that she was looking to connect with more influences and thought leaders. It gave me reason to find one for her. That effort took me only a few minutes and cost me nothing. Now, I’m connected to both of these amazing ladies and one of them is a new client.

As a professional networker, I do attract a certain amount of networking attention, but, there’s no magic to reaching out to contacts to swap updates. Most often, just like at the coffee shop, it’s in these casual settings and through seemingly insignificant conversations where the gaps of opportunity surface.

Here’s what to listen for:

● Gaps of need: Looking for a social media manager. Help with PR. Need a Speaker.
● Opportunistic Changes: Under new management. Change in client focus.
● News: Getting ready to launch a new event. Invented something. Got some funding.

What to do:

● Get people to be specific. When talking with someone who shares interesting information, ask more open-ended questions to get clear on the gap. You are looking for key words and enough of them for you to envision an action to take. My son, trained as a police detective, tells me that listening for clues is about building rapport, trusting intuition, and re-stating a question differently to get solid information.

● Filter the information and make the connection immediately. If you feel you have the business to service them, say so right then, and create a follow up plan before you leave the conversation. If you think you can make a referral, let them know you’ll make a call or send an email to help them connect. If you email an introduction, ask everyone to keep you in the email string when they make contact so you know the connection has happened.

● Put together your networking puzzle. From the pool of contacts you come across in a week just conducting business as usual, there are likely multiple connections that could be made. I introduced three contacts from this past week to one resource. If you were to lay out the names on pieces of paper with the networking opportunity listed under their names, you’d probably see where matches could be made within that very pool. You should be in the mix, too, and if you and someone else in the pool can help in different ways, you might just have a new collaborator.

I’m sure you are wondering why you would want to network for others. The easy answer is that it’s the right thing to do, but, developing a grateful network means doors open for the one making the network happy. My networking results over the past week and half not only sent several valuable leads for business and resources to my contacts, but, I ended up with a new client, a pending contract, and requests from three to work on special projects. Can’t argue with doing the right thing.