Networking is just like any other skill; it can be learned and developed over time. It takes practice, repetition, and most of all, perseverance. For many people the term networking is synonymous with schmoozing or biz development and can be a barrier in and of itself. They think it’s being sleazy or that you are just trying to sell something. The reality is that networking isn’t like that. It’s just socializing. Networking is about having conversations, meeting new people, getting to know them and letting them get to know you. Networking is being nimble to what the other person needs at the time. Networking isn’t always about you; sometimes it is you being the solution by giving them a referral, making you more valuable in their network.
If you are at a loss on where to start, start with individuals whose opinion you most value and respect. Identify that colleague, former boss, or a parent of a friend that seems to have it dialed in. Ask them where they think your skills are best utilized, because they’ve seen you excel. They likely see positive attributes in you that you are blind to, and when they know what you want to do, they will become your cheerleader! Once you start branching out beyond you current network, it’s imperative to know who to talk to and when, and to make sure you stagger your conversations by talking to the least professionally-relevant people while you are brainstorming and figuring out what you want to say. Save the most relevant professional contacts until you are clear as to what you want and you have your elevator pitch nailed down. Otherwise you risk looking unprofessional and unprepared, and you most likely won’t get another shot to talk to them.
Whether you’re networking online or in person, it’s crucial that you research and get to know people ahead of time. Google them and look up their LinkedIn profile and take notes. Know as much about the person as you can. If you ask them something that is readily available online (Google, website, LinkedIn profile) this will tell them that you are unprepared and that you are wasting their time because you didn’t even look them up.
A few key reminders that if you are trying to connect with someone, call or write don’t email. Busy Executives get close to 200 emails a day, but maybe two to four letters via mail, and probably only between 10-20 calls per day. Your chances are much better if you opt for an option other than email. Take a risk and differentiate yourself.
Following up after the connection is just as important as the connection. Write down points to follow up on, whether it is professionally or if there is something you personally have in common. Having those notes will be helpful for re-connecting in the future and they will have an easier time remembering you, too! Don’t think about each connection as a one-off connection, conversation, or coffee; instead treat it like a first step to them accepting you into their network. You likely won’t register on their radar after just one, two or even three touches. The idea is that it takes about seven touches with someone before they begin to view you as a part of their network.
At your next event, try to find someone that you don’t know at all and strike up a conversation. You never know, it may turn into something great. If anything, you’ve just made a new connection and have the opportunity to be introduced to their network.
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