For many people, the word “networking” brings up images of this guy (left). It’s no wonder so many people have negative connotations about networking. After all, no one wants to be ‘that guy’.
The good news is that collecting business cards and spamming people (both written and verbally) with why you’re so great is not actually networking. In fact, if you try to network like this, you’ll quickly find that not only does it not work, it’ll have the opposite effect and turn people away.
So then what is networking? In its simplest sense, I like to define it as actively looking for ways you can provide value to others with similar interests.
- It’s the #1 way to identify and secure business & career opportunities.
- The strength of weak ties: the more “weak” ties in your network the wider the variety of opportunities you’ll be exposed to. This topic could be its own blog post. If you’re interested in more check out Reid Hoffman’s post or the original research paper.
- Your network goes with you throughout your career.
Making your networking productive is as simple as following these three steps:
Three tips for successful networking:
- Know your objective.
- Proactively engage…then listen.
1. Know Your Objective
“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter’.”
Without focusing your networking efforts, you’ll end up very busy, but frustrated at a perceived lack of progress. If you’re going to spend time attending events, you should spend a little time beforehand understanding why. What is it you need? Are you looking for business clients? Job leads? Potential employees? Advice?
These (and more) are all valid reasons for networking. But decide before the event which objectives you’re targeting. Going in blind and ‘seeing what happens’ leaves you open to missing what you really needed. Objectives don’t need to take a lot of time. For example, something as simple as “speak to at least 2 people I can follow-up with regarding career advice” is enough. Remember, you don’t need to meet everyone at an event to make it a ‘success’ – simply meeting your personal objectives makes it a success for you.
2. Proactively engage…then listen
If you feel uncomfortable at events, realize you’re far from the only one who feels that way. Getting started can be as simple as breaking the ice. Yes, I know that’s usually easier said than done, but one of the benefits of an event like MarketingCamp is that everyone is there for the same purpose. No one’s going to care or remember how a conversation was started, only that they enjoyed the conversation. So smile and say hello. Or get really fancy with “May I join you?” or “What brings you to MarketingCamp?”. And don’t hesitate to ask questions in the sessions at MarketingCamp. It’s a great way to generate follow-up conversations with the speaker or other attendees afterward.
Once you’re in the conversation, the most important thing to remember is to LISTEN. There’s no better way to find out how you can help someone than to ask questions and listen. But you have to really listen. Planning what you’re going to say next about yourself while smiling and nodding doesn’t count. Remember, networking is about actively looking for ways you can provide value to others. Make it about them and you’ll find that the opportunities to speak about yourself will come up naturally.
The most important part of networking, and unfortunately the most neglected, is to follow-up. Follow-up doesn’t need to take much time. In many cases, simply mentioning that it was nice to speak with them and offering a follow-up discussion is enough. If appropriate, let them know you’re open to assisting them in the future and to feel free to contact you. If they gave you advice, let them know what you did with that advice. If you offered to help them in some way, be sure to do so.
A final note on follow-up. Many people, myself included, use LinkedIn to maintain their network. It’s a wonderful tool when used appropriately. I don’t recommend using the generic LinkedIn invite text. Take a couple minutes and write something personal to remind the recipient where you met, what you discussed, and why you’d like to stay connected. It’s not only a helpful reminder to the recipient, it also shows a little thought.
What are some networking tips you’ve found useful? I’d love to hear them. Let me know in the comments.