LET'S GET REAL ABOUT NETWORKING.
Networking does not get you “connections.”
Networking does get you business cards. Pieces of paper with people’s names, companies, and contact information.
Networking does not give you professional opportunities. Networking does give you an opportunity to meet someone new.
Networking ends after the initial introduction.
So the concept of meeting someone at a networking event and immediately receiving personal or professional advantage is a lie because let’s be frank: no one does something for nothing. Relationships only bear fruit when both parties feel supported, or at least feel comfortable enough to believe they can call upon each other when needed.
The process of building relationships can take months, and more often than not, years. So although networking is a first step, the only way to gain those “connections” you’re looking for is to actually build long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.
1) FOLLOW-UP. DUH!
I find it incredible how many people don’t do this…and then I get an email from them months later asking for a favor, or an introduction to a contact of mine!
If you have a good conversation at a networking event, it doesn’t matter if it’s a 15 minute in-depth talk, or a 1 minute introduction – if that person is in your desired industry, or you align with them in some way, send them an email the next day.
Keep it short and sweet, and indicate that you want to learn more about them, instead of talking about yourself and your services (because then it just sounds like you’re trying to sell them something).
Try something like:
“I WELCOME ALL OPPORTUNITIES TO GET TO KNOW OTHER PROFESSIONALS, LEARN OF THEIR INTERESTS AND PASSIONS, AND OFFER MY SUPPORT IN ANY WAY I CAN”
2) MEET. LISTEN. REPEAT.
At your “meeting over coffee,” immediately ask about them. In fact, make it your objective to talk about their interests and work for at least 50% of the time you’re meeting. Here’s why:
People love talking about themselves (no surprise there)
You’ll learn about them. Ideally you’ll learn a few personal things like what neighborhood they live in, or where they grew up, and what they like to do for fun. And of course, you’ll learn about them professionally like how they got into their current line of work, and what their goals are for the future. All of this information is building blocks for your relationship, and will be starting points for your next conversation.
Inevitably, they will say something like “well enough about me, tell me about you” and they will actually listen to what you have to say because you listened to them first!
3) KEEP A RUNNING LIST.
Every business card I’ve received has been added to a running list, and everyday this simple Excel spreadsheet becomes more and more valuable to me. It helps to keep track of everyone I’ve met and I can easily search or scroll through it (try doing that on Facebook or LinkedIn, it will take you hours!)
Make note of people’s skills and abilities, especially if they’re looking for new opportunities. When you hear of a position opening, a new project, or even just free tickets to an event, scan your list and see who you can offer it to. But don’t do it just because you’re expecting something in return. Always give without expectation…you’ll notice that thoughtfulness hardly goes unappreciated.
5) STAY CONNECTED. KEEP OTHERS INFORMED.
Connect with people on LinkedIn, visit their company website, follow them on Twitter, and like their Facebook page. It’s not stalking, it’s a free and easy way to show your support.
Post about what you’re doing. No need to brag, or be annoyingly self-promoting. Just post about your interests, or projects that you’re working on. Over time people will form a profile of you in their minds (he’s a writer, she’s a social media expert, etc.) and when they come across an opportunity that matches your skill set, they’ll think of you!