Networking Part I: Tips & Tricks
Let’s start by clearing up one thing: we’re talking today about networking in the professional, person-to-person sense. If you are looking for computer networking this article won’t be much help. Our apologies if you were expecting the latter!
Networking in a professional setting can seem overwhelming and a bit uncomfortable. After all, you are a representative for your business, and you are probably tired of other people trying to get free stuff or sell you services that you don’t need the moment they find out what you do!
Well friend, that’s not networking. At least, not when it's done right.
Networking is a little bit like courting a romantic interest. You wouldn’t just jump right in, ask a stranger to marry you, and expect them to say yes, right? Building your professional network is no different. It takes time, compatibility, and shared interests to lay a proper foundation.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is networking?
If you open up Google and type in “what is networking”, the first result is this dictionary definition:
Interacting with others to exchange information and develop contacts. There are two words in this definition to focus on: exchange and develop.
Exchanging information isn’t just swapping business cards and now <💥BOOM!💥> you have a professional contact. Exchanging information provides value to both parties. Asking insightful questions about their business or industry, sharing anecdotes or interesting news relevant to the conversation, and providing value by sharing a free tool or resource they might benefit from are all great ways to engage a new contact. Use this time to identify your shared interests; they’ll be invaluable in the next step.
Developing contacts takes time and engagement. Having someone’s business card or getting their LinkedIn connection isn’t enough: now it’s time to start laying that foundation! If you had a positive initial exchange, here’s where those shared interests come in. Following up on your last conversation and keeping it going is a great place to start.
Remember to keep in mind compatibility. If your prospective connection doesn’t seem engaged, don’t inundate them with follow ups. Not all relationships make it past their first date!
Why should I build a network?
In the simplest sense: because you never know where your next opportunity will come from.
Unfortunately there is no such thing as “job security”. Companies restructure, positions get eliminated, and circumstances change that might impact your ability to stay in your current position. Networking allows you to stay alert to new trends, be aware as changes occur in adjacent industries, and to identify positions that are coming available. Networking can also present you with opportunities in other sectors that you hadn’t previously considered.
But as with all relationships, you will only get out the same value you put in. The best time to nurture and grow your network is now, so it can be there for you if you have need of it in the future.
Where do I start?
If you are new to networking, it’s easiest to start in an environment you already know and are comfortable with.
In a business with multiple departments? Have lunch with members from a different team and learn more about what they do for the company. This is just a stepping stone, though. There is an error in focusing solely on building your network within your existing company: it might not be much help if you and your company part ways. In all things, diversify. Especially when building your personal network.
Run a small business? Invite the owners of your neighboring businesses over for an after hours social, or check your local chamber or business association’s calendar of events for an upcoming mixer. Many of these community events are free for members, and have a small fee for non-members to attend.
Megan’s Top 5 Networking Tips:
There's no magic formula that works for every person, but these are a few of Megan's top networking tips. Try one out the next time you find yourself networking, and tweak it to work best for you!
1. Set a two-drink maximum.
Many mixers and professional events have an alcohol component. Especially in an environment where you might already be uncomfortable or overwhelmed, it can be easy to overindulge in an attempt to “take the edge off”. Start with a non-alcoholic beverage while you make the rounds when you first arrive. There’s a time for partying and letting your hair down, and meeting new people professionally is not one of those times.
2. Take notes.
This might sound odd but it makes a big impact if your memory isn't great. Choose an inconspicuous method that works for you: with a pen on the back of the person’s business card; on an app in your phone. Capture little details that pop up in conversation so you can follow up with the things that are important to your contact. They can be anything from ‘son Gavin’s little league game tonight’ to ‘celebrating 3rd business anniversary next week’.
3. Move around the room.
Don’t stay in one place with the same people. It’s comfortable once you’ve made your way in to a group to stay there, but that’s not how you’ll meet more people. Work your way around the room trying to visit with as many people as possible, even if it’s just to exchange pleasantries before moving on to the next group.
From Megan: I like to play a little game at events like this. I believe every event has one person that I haven’t met whom I should know, so I spend the whole night trying to find them. Sometimes it’s someone new to the area, sometimes it’s someone who I share a mutual connection with, but it’s a game that gets me talking to new people. And in the end I always win!
4. Bring a social buffer.
In the dating world it’s not uncommon to have a wingman (or wingwoman) who comes out to social events and helps you meet new people. Professional networking doesn’t have to be any different! If you have a professional, personable friend that you feel comfortable with, ask them to come help you mix and mingle as a social buffer.
5. Follow up.
For every email address that you collect at an event - either as soon as it’s over or the next morning - send each new contact an email thanking them for connecting with you. Include a message from Tip #2 to show that you were actively engaged and listening during your time together, and invite them to reach out any time. If you met at a reoccurring event, you can also let them know you hope to see them again at the next one.
We hope you find these tips helpful at your next networking event!