Oh, the power of networking. I know, the thought of networking and ultimately trying to make connections with people you don’t personally know may bring fear to many but let’s face it, as a young professional or entrepreneur your journey is going to be a tough one without the right people in your network. In a digital age fuelled by instant gratification, many people feel that because they have many likes or followers, they have a great network. However, when it comes to your network and the people you surround yourself with, especially in terms of business, it is definitely quality over quantity. For example, I have clients who boast about having 500-1000 LinkedIn connections but when it's time to find a reference or arrange an information interview we learn that often times these are just numbers and that the individual has little to no quality professional relationships. Another example, you work within a niche profession and you’re currently trying to find a mentor to give you guidance. You can have 1000 “connections” but if not one of those people have expertise in that area, there’s no value in this circumstance OR there may be someone however due to lack of communication it doesn't progress very far. You’ll have to strategize and find ways to extend outside of your comfort zone to build those relationships.
For Part 1 of Networking Basics I want to cover some tips to keep in mind before providing some tools and futher steps for you to implement.
1. Identify the reason you wish to connect
What is the purpose for why you’re trying to connect with someone. Not only that but in what ways is this potentially going to be a mutually beneficial interaction. Being clear on your “why” is vital in many circumstances but understanding your why will help you to identify the most appropriate approach. As you know every relationship we have people get different aspects of who we are. How you approach a prospective business partner will differ from a potential client/customer. Same thing to be considered in terms of how you approach family, friends and prospective love interests. Give yourself clarity on your intentions to avoid the blurring of boundaries.
2. Be interested before being interesting and find ways to relate
There are many people out there that often love to speak about themselves. Saying that, be careful not to make the interaction completely about you, your needs, your accomplishments, etc. There’s an art to communication and relationships building. Let those you’re networking with have the opportunity to speak about themselves and listen actively. Based on the information that is provided, probe with follow-up questions and find ways to relate naturally throughout the conversation.
3. Respect people’s time
Something I'm learning more and more is the value of time. Once it's gone there’s no getting it back. Respect people's time in more ways than one. For example, if you're meeting for coffee, be on time! If you're unable to make it, let them know in advance. Also be careful of constantly rescheduling, all of this will make others question how serious you are. Also, if you're meeting at an event/ social environment for the first time, do not hold them hostage. Request to exchange information to connect further.
4. Always follow-up!!
Once you have exchanged information, always be sure to follow-up! What’s the point of connecting if you’re not actually going to connect post-initial contact? What I would recommend is asking what that person's preferred method of communication is and be sure to do so in a timely fashion. If they say to connect via email or LinkedIN, just send a brief message within 24-48 hours thanking them for their time and maybe summarizing where you met and a sentence or two of what was discussed. If your contact prefers to communicate by phone, clarify an ideal date and time to contact them. If anything you can then go ahead and sent a confirmation email or calendar request in preparation to doing so.
This is one of the most important steps to networking. If there is no follow-up you potentially lose that connection and you don’t want all the hard work gone to waste do you?
Thanks for reading and look out to Part 2 of Networking Basics! :)
-Brandesha, The Working Millennial