Successful networking goes beyond simply exchanging business cards or attending events. It’s about building meaningful connections that can propel your career to new heights. Having a strong set of professional contacts can open doors, give you access to industry expertise, and even help you get your business to where you want it to be.
Your network should be made up of a variety of personal and professional relationships, including present and former colleagues, supervisors, advisors, professors, alumni, friends, and industry professionals. If you’re just starting out, however, creating such a robust network might seem difficult and sometimes scary.
Developing meaningful relationships will require a concerted effort, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful endeavor. If you’re looking to broaden your network and advance your career, here are six networking tips to help you get started.
Prepare your pitch
“Who are you and what do you do?” If you find yourself tri[ping over your words and talking in circles when you’re asked these few questions, it’s probably time to work on that elevator pitch. Your first impression is everything. your pitch has to do a lot of work, quickly. It must tell people what you do, show your expertise, and demonstrate the value of your work. And you must make this information relatable to someone who has no experience in your industry.
What are you passionate about? What are you hoping to get out of this event? what sets you apart, what value can you provide, and why are you attending this event? If you can describe what you do in four words or less, you will be memorable and you’ll speak to your audience immediately.
It might feel strange “selling” yourself, but having your pitch ready means you can clearly communicate to others who you are and how they might be able to help you. Practice saying your pitch until it starts to feel natural.
Talk to new people
It’s much easier to walk into an event and buddy up with your group of friends. While it’s great to catch up with your besties, it is even more important to strike up new conversations with people you haven’t met before. If you’re not super comfortable walking up to a stranger on your own, grab a friend you trust and do it together! Now you both have someone new to add to your network. You already know that your friends add value to your life, because, well… they’re your friends. You don’t know what value a stranger can provide you until you talk to them!
Maybe you see someone who you haven’t spoken to in years, and you think “Oh that would be weird if I just went up to them out of the blue!” Although you’d like to keep in constant contact with your entire network, in reality, it’s easy to fall out of touch. Don’t feel shy about reconnecting with old contacts, even if it’s been a while since you last spoke. The truth is, they will appreciate the fact that you are making the effort to reconnect and say hello.
Offer your help to others
Often, we meet someone and exchange our names, company, job title, and where we grew up in about three minutes. Then we smile, look at the ground, and say something like “I love your shirt.” It’s easy to talk about yourself and what will help you thrive, and we often forget to offer assistance or ask about the other person.
When establishing and maintaining networking connections, it’s easy to think about how the people you’ll be meeting can benefit you and your business. Offering assistance is an effective way to develop stronger relationships. Think about giver’s gain – if you’re willing to help someone else out, then in return they will help you out. The type of assistance you provide may include giving professional advice, acting as a reference, facilitating a professional introduction, helping with a project, or joining a board of advisors or directors.
How can you provide value to other people? For example, if you are attending an industry convention, you may offer assistance by introducing a coworker and a similar individual that you met while at the convention. Offering assistance to others will allow you to ask for assistance more easily when you need it.
Look for networking opportunities anywhere you can
Whether it’s a networking-specific meetup or an expert speaking on a hot topic, make an effort to attend relevant industry events. You’ll be in a room of like-minded individuals with whom you can discuss topics relevant to your discipline. These types of face-to-face interactions will widen your network and create deeper, more meaningful impressions than an introductory email alone. How do you find these types of events? Join professional groups, Facebook groups in your community, and sign up for newsletters.
Don’t make up excuses! Networking opportunities do not have to just be a meeting, a speaker event, or an outing labeled “networking event.” Take advantage of any situation that puts you in a room with a group of people. Waiting in the checkout line, a birthday party for a friend, or even your child’s baseball game are all great opportunities to strike up a conversation with the person standing next to you.
Before you attend, take a look at the guest list, which you could consider a list of potential connections. If you don’t have the guest list, scroll through social media and search the organization’s designated hashtag for that event. Chances are if people are talking about it on social media, they’re probably also going or are interested in going. Once you have your list of potential connections, you can further research each person on LinkedIn.
A few key things to focus on, so you don’t fall down a rabbit hole of cyberstalking. Note the professional’s title, company, and industry. Focus on those three basic components, as well as if you have anything in common. LinkedIn is pretty good about making it obvious that you and another person may have worked at the same company or attended the same college.
Own the follow-up! Why go to networking events and meet new people if there isn’t a next step? You can give your business card out all you like, but will anyone reach out? How can you make sure that connection doesn’t come to a screeching halt at the networking event?
- State your intention. When you exit a conversation, offer this, “I’ll send you an email so we have each other’s contact information. I look forward to connecting further.” Then, do it!
- Create a 24-hour rule. We’ve all done it. We have the best intentions, but a week goes by, or maybe two, and then it’s just awkward. Send a very short note within 24 hours, just to let the other person know that you’re not ghosting them.
- Add value. Offer your new contact something of value in your email. A link to an article you think they’d enjoy, an invitation to a future event, or a possible referral (this last one is gold!).
As you continue to build your network, it’s important to maintain it by communicating with your connections regularly. Don’t feel like you need to connect on a schedule, but make sure you touch base at least a couple of times a year!
While you can certainly accomplish a ton on your own, imagine how much more you can achieve with a strong network of folks who support you. Having a strong network makes you an even stronger individual entrepreneur.
“To succeed in this world you have to be known to people.” You never know who will change your career or life the most, and it’s never too late to get started. So what are you waiting for?” – Sonia Sotomayor
Looking for a great place to start networking? Check out our upcoming events!