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Ten Tips For Business Networking
When you hear the word “networking,” what do you think of? What image flashes on the screen in your mind? If you’re like some people, you see a horror movie on the screen. For others, like me, you see an action-adventure flick. Many of the factors that determine whether you enjoy networking or not have to do with your previous experience in networking, your personality type, and your comfort with dealing with people.
The fact is that networking is the way of the world in the 21st century, and if you haven’t gotten on the networking bandwagon by now, you may find yourself falling further and further out of the loop in marketing, sales, or personal career advancement. What we’re here for today to is talk about how networking can advance your business prospects, both personally and on behalf of your organization.
Let’s review ten tips about networking that can help you become more comfortable and proficient.
Networking is about relationships, not using people. Networking is usually thought of as a relationship between people that serves to advance a personal or professional agenda. This might include marketing, sales, or getting help finding a job. When you enter into a networking relationship, you must be genuine, authentic, trusting, trustworthy, and available for the long term. When you’re using networking to advance your personal or professional interests, you must make yourself available to people when they need your attention or assistance in advancing their own personal or professional agendas.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “It’s not what you know, it’s whom you know.” When it comes to effective networking, it’s not whom you know, it’s who knows you. While it’s true that getting to know others is a key element in successful networking, making sure that they know who you are, what your interests and capabilities are, and especially your current personal or professional focus – that’s what I mean by people knowing you. Because you don’t always know how long a period of time you’ll have with any given individual, it’s important that you develop some sort of quick “positioning statement,” or “elevator speech” that allows you to present the key information about yourself in under two minutes. You should always have a clear goal for a networking conversation. Do you want your contact to know something or do something? Is your goal simply to develop or nurture the relationship? Whatever your goal is, be clear about it in your own mind, and share it freely with your contact.
When you’re looking for a new job or looking to advance within your current organization, always tell people what you’re doing, but never ask them directly for a job or a job lead. Putting people on the spot makes them uncomfortable and creates reluctance to talk with you more than once. On the other hand, when you approach people asking for advice and information about a particular issue, you’ll get an enthusiastic reception to your overture. Think about the last time someone asked you for advice – how did you feel? Most of us feel flattered when asked our advice, and we tend to be more forthcoming.
When it comes to career choices, the conventional wisdom is to narrow your focus and direct your efforts with almost surgical precision. With networking, it’s the opposite. When you’re actively networking, you should broaden your approach and talk to as many different types of people as you can.
- Start with the people you have easiest access to – friends, relatives, and even neighbors.
- Business associates, co-workers, subordinates, managers, customers and vendors should also be on your networking list.
- Involve people who belong to the same social and professional organizations that you belong to, including church and your bowling league.
- Talk with community professionals you do business with – doctors, dentists, insurance agents, CPAs, etc. Don’t forget your barber or hairdresser.
- If you’re married and have children, don’t forget to tap into your spouse’s and your kids’ networks. Next time you’re at a soccer game, instead of yelling at the referee, you should be talking with other parents sitting with you in the bleachers.
- Finally, engage the alumni of the schools you attended. Alumni associations are hot stuff these days. Approach not only people in your own classes, but anyone who ever went to your school, including faculty.
- Don’t discount the value of a particular individual just because he or she may not be obviously in your line of work or have similar interests. Remember that everybody knows somebody, and even if a given individual serves only as a link between you and someone else, that person has served an important role in your networking process.
One way of meeting people is to volunteer your time and skills with nonprofit organizations. If you’re handy with tools, join your local Habitat for Humanity chapter. Whatever your skills and interests, there’s an organization out there that could benefit from your help. Besides the warm, fuzzy feelings you get from being helpful to your community, you get to meet other people with similar values, all of whom are connected to other people and organizations. The possibilities are endless.
While it’s important for the people in your network to know all about you and your skills and interests, it’s equally important for you to get to know them well. Learn how to listen skillfully and ask the right questions of others. Give them an opportunity to do some bragging about their accomplishments. When you listen well and help people enhance their own self-esteem, they think better of you and will be willing to offer concrete assistance whenever you need it. Use the information you gather from others as a way of helping them get what they need and want. Make referrals to other people in your network and become known as a broker of skills and services.
Learn to network internally, externally and electronically. Look for opportunities to bring people together from these networks, but also learn to understand when they need to be kept separate from one another.
- Internal networking can help you learn more about your own organization, as well as allowing others within the organization to know more about you. Look for opportunities to work across different parts of the organization, so you can be thought of as a versatile resource to the organization as a whole. The more people who know you within your organization, and the more you can do, the more secure you will be.
- Networking outside your organization can be used to advance your own personal career, but can also be used to advance the interests of your organization. By bringing together people in your external network with other key people in your organization, you enhance your reputation as a resource to everyone.
- Electronic networking has taken on a life of its own in the past couple of years. Networking websites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. have grown exponentially over the past year alone. Once you’ve joined, you can then join or create special interest groups, such as professional groups, alumni groups, even groups of people that share your name. I’m a member of a group on LinkedIn called, “Hey, I’m Shapiro.”
a. Most professionals would agree that LinkedIn is the preferred venue for connecting with other professionals. If you’re interested in meeting with someone beyond one degree of separation, you’d be better off getting in touch with your 1st degree contact, and ask for an introduction to the other person, rather than try to connect directly.
b. LinkedIn and the other venues are also good ways of finding people you may have lost touch with over the years. If the other person is a member, you’ll find them on somebody’s list.
c. Despite the ease of locating and communicating with people electronically, I’m still old-fashioned enough to believe that the most powerful impact will be made via an in-person meeting, rather than purely electronically.
Whenever you get together with people, have a clear agenda in mind and one or two goals for what you hope to accomplish. If it’s just a catch-up meeting with someone you already know, make sure you refresh your memory about what they’re interested in, their families, etc. If you want something from them, be clear about what you want, and what you’re prepared to offer in return. At all times, your own personal “brand” should be clearly visible.
Follow up all your meetings with an appropriate note. It can be a thank you note, an acknowledgement of your mutual interests, or some assurance that you will pursue a referral or a suggestion you were given. The follow up note demonstrates that you were paying attention and that your intent is to maintain the relationship.
- If you’ve met with someone for the first time, you can make an impression by sending your follow up as a hand-written note sent by postal mail. While many people skip over e-mails, no one ignores a hand-written envelope with a first class stamp on it. It’s another way of making a positive, lasting impression.
- If you’ve met with someone more than once, or if you’re networking internally, an email would be appropriate, since you’re already known to them, and you’re not likely to end up caught in a spam filter.
When you’re given a referral or a suggestion for action, make sure you follow up on that as quickly as possible. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the other person seriously and that you value their input. If the follow up takes some time, be sure to send a note indicating your progress or a reason for a delay.
BONUS! Additional tips for networking success …
Bonus Tip Eleven
When you’re meeting someone in person, your first choice should be their place of business or office. It’s not always possible to do that, since many people work in a security-conscious environment that isn’t very welcoming of visitors. Some people don’t have a private office or don’t have access to a private location to have a conversation. But when you can do it, it’s much better than being off site for a number of reasons:
- Since they’re on their own “turf,” they will tend to be more relaxed and forthcoming.
- When they make referrals, they simply have to reach over to a Rolodex or punch up their Outlook contacts, and there you go. When you’re meeting offsite, they first have to get back to the office, remember to do it, gather the information, and somehow get it to you. A lot of additional steps in what should be a simple referral.
- When visiting someone at their place of business, you get an opportunity to be introduced to others, check out the bulletin boards, etc.
- If, for whatever reason, you can’t meet at someone’s office, then what?
a. I generally discourage people from “doing lunch.” Lunch is time limited, it’s often noisy and crowded, and isn’t the best environment for a calm, quiet discussion.
b. I suggest instead a Starbuck’s, St. Louis Bread Company, Einstein’s, or a similar environment that’s generally less stressful.
c. If you’re meeting someone later in the day, try one of the big book stores, like Border’s or Barnes & Noble, which have small cafés. They’re not crowded, they’re comfortable and quiet, and very appropriate for a quiet conversation.
d. Another possibility, often overlooked, is the public library. There are branches all over the area, and contrary to what many people think, librarians no longer go around shushing people.
Bonus Tip Twelve
When you’ve been referred to someone, there are a couple of approaches you can take to getting together.
- When the referral is initially made, ask if they would be willing to introduce you to the other person. Getting a personal introduction is the most powerful way of making a new contact.
- Failing that, always ask if you can use the source’s name when making contact with the new person – don’t take it for granted that you can, as there may be reasons why the source wants to keep their name out of it.
- When you call to make the contact, there is a variety of things you can say. Most people say something like, “Joe Blow suggested I get in touch with you …” I prefer a different phrasing: “Joe Blow suggested that you and I ought to get to know each other.” This phrasing immediately implies the possibility of a mutually beneficial relationship.
- Look for an opportunity to build the other person’s self-esteem by saying something like, “Joe Blow said you were very knowledgeable about …” “I think you’d be the ideal person to ask for advice and information about …”
Bonus Tip Thirteen
There will be times when an in person meeting just isn’t feasible. Either the other person doesn’t have the time or inclination to meet in person, or they might be out of town. Remember, networks these days are global, and your best contact might be in Chicago or London. In that case, you’ll have to settle for a telephone or video contact. Using a service such as Skype, allows for both audio and video two-way transmissions. When both of you are signed up for Skype and have the software installed, the call is free anywhere in the world.
I can’t emphasize enough the value of building and maintaining a network as a way of advancing your business interests, whether you are working for an organization, looking for a new position, or developing a business of your own. Business is personal, and you will get the most useful business results when you’re well networked.