04 May How to Network – 7 Practical Tips
What goes through your mind when someone suggests that you need to network more?
Comments we often hear include:
“Networking is insincere and manipulative”
“It takes too much time and effort”
“I’m shy, I can’t network”
Do any of these sound familiar?
Networking often gets bad press and can be seen as a contrived activity designed specifically for people to get what they want from you. When you think about networking do you think of those formal, organised, networking events that many of us dread?
If so, I’d like to offer a different perspective.
What is Networking?
It’s essentially about building genuine, and mutually beneficial, relationships with others as you go about your day to day business. It’s about proactively and consciously maintaining relationships with people who may be able to help you in ways you can’t even predict right now. It’s also a natural process; it’s likely that you do it already, although some of us are better at it than others.
Having a strong network of contacts, established over time, will allow you access to all sorts of resources that you may not otherwise be able easily to tap into, such as:
- inside information
- the word on the street
- wider industry/market intelligence
- access to others’ networks
- a heads up about job vacancies, often before they’re advertised.
Do you consciously and proactively network and maintain relationships with your contacts? Do you give more than you receive?
Do you forget about your contacts, lose their business cards, can’t remember their names, only to think of them when you need something?
Please don’t think that networking isn’t for you if you’re quite junior, a graduate, or new to the business. Networking is a ‘long game’ activity, not just for when you’re desperate for information or a new job. It’s never too early to start developing your network!
How to Network
If you’re not a big fan of formal networking events but would like to be more effective at networking, here are a few ideas to help you.
1. Reconnect with people you already know
This could simply involve engaging people in conversation next time you pass them in the corridor or see them in the lift. If this is the approach you plan to take and you feel nervous about it, have a question or two ready to ask, ideally business related rather than what was on the TV last night! Asking questions of others is often much less stressful than talking about yourself.
2. Find opportunities to make contact with people at all levels
If you’re attending a meeting, or find yourself working with a new team, make time to engage with everyone, not just the person who may be of most use to you. Don’t dismiss people as unimportant; you never know who and what they know. You may also be able to help them right now. Several of my current clients were once junior employees with whom I have developed relationships, helped out, given time to and kept in touch with. Now they are senior business leaders in global organisations.
3. Find out how you can help people
That means finding out more about the people you come into contact with. You may not yet be at that stage in your career where you can offer a job, but you may be able to share information, a different perspective or simply a genuine interest in them and their business. My main goal in networking is to think about how I might help others, for both new and established contacts. I don’t just zero in on those who have something I want right now.
4. Follow up and keep in touch with new people you meet
This might simply involve sharing an article you recently read that you believe might be of interest to them or putting them in touch with someone in your network.
5. Ask others to introduce you
If there’s someone you would like to meet, find out who they may already know who is in your network and then ask for an introduction. Remember though, if you’ve been introduced to someone by a current contact, make sure you get back to them to thank them and let them know how the introduction is going. Otherwise, they may be reluctant to help again.
6. Give generously of your time, information, contacts
There’s nothing more off putting than someone who is blatantly after something from you with no interest in what they might be able to do for you. Generosity is an attractive characteristic and people will remember you for it. As you network and engage in conversation with people at all levels, you may recognise how one person you know may be able to help another. Make a point of putting them in touch with each other.
7. Connect with people on professional social networking sites
If you don’t already, I would recommend using LinkedIn. It’s a great way of connecting with someone after you’ve met them. Do it soon after you’ve met them though and take time to send a personal message when you send the LinkedIn request. I find the standard “I’d like to add you to my professional network” a little impersonal. Simply add a one liner to make it more inviting.
I hope you have found these tips useful. The more you proactively and consciously network, the more confident you will become. Even if you feel that only one or two of these ideas are relevant for you right now, you will be taking your first steps towards becoming more effective at networking.
This is our first blog on the theme of networking; others will follow in the coming months.
Posted by Julie Turner