Networking is one of the most powerful ways to succeed in your professional career and grow your business. It may seem daunting at first – particularly if you’re shy – but learning how to network should be a top priority for all professionals.
Networking has a range of benefits. It can accelerate your career success by expanding your contacts and helping you build meaningful relationships with people in your industry. It’s also a chance for potential employers to see you in a social environment and be assured of your cultural ‘fit’ for a role. But whether it’s in a face-to-face environment at an industry event or via online social networks, you have just one chance to make a great first impression. Here are some strategies to make it count.
Networking at events
Like any new skill, networking requires practice. You could start by attending smaller events which might not seem as overwhelming, bringing a colleague or friend in the same industry for support. Pay attention to your body language. Keep your arms open and not crossed, and make eye contact with people when you meet them. It’s also a smart idea to practice how you will introduce yourself, including a brief description of your role and your company. This preparation will help you feel more confident in the moment.
Choosing where to go
There are myriad opportunities to attend networking events, but choose wisely and maximize your opportunities. Organizations in your industry are an excellent place to start. Join mailing lists and sign up to websites relevant to your profession.
- Ticketed events and conferences: Events that are ticketed and require an entry fee are likely to generate more useful contacts because attendees are clearly serious about growing their business and making strong relationships. If money is an issue or the ticket price seems high, consider buying a day ticket to a multi-day event or attend just one session or workshop.
- Meetup and Eventbrite: There are plenty of planned events on the social networking site Meetup, where groups with a common interest or professional area organize events. Eventbrite is a ticketing platform used to organize large or small events. Both are worth exploring to find worthwhile gatherings. You might have to attend a few before you find the right group of occasion for you, but many are largely free, so you should regard it as another strategy to practice your networking skills.
Follow up fast
Once you meet a contact, it’s important to follow up. If the person is a potential hot lead who could help you grow your business, make sure you reach out to him or her within the first 48 hours. Start by connecting via sites such as LinkedIn, and then send an email to exchange contact information. This is also a good chance to make an appointment or set up a call. Like a great first date, the follow-up is key.
Learn to work the room
Author and master communicator Andy Bounds says that in order to make the most of networking opportunities and ensure ‘your communication sticks’, you must plan ahead. Before attending an event, it’s essential to choose key people you want to target to build your network. Research the planning committee or get a list of attendees and then get a plan in place. You might find it useful to take a colleague to large events and split up, so you can work both sides of the room.
Networking is a two-way street and, while it’s tempting to focus on what you can get from a professional connection, it’s important to remember you need to give back. Invite your newfound contacts to business lunches or provide an email introduction for them. If only one person is doing the ‘giving’ and the introductions, the relationship will undoubtedly be short-lived. So don’t forget, networking requires give and take.
Networking online is also a useful strategy and, in many cases, it’s easier to be direct about what you’re seeking. It could be a new job, a business opportunity, or a role on a board. Be upfront and confident in what you want.
Link in with LinkedIn
LinkedIn continues to be a powerful tool in making connections and can also help you land your dream job. Many employers also search via this network rather than doing a blanket advertisement for positions. Spend time developing a great profile and keep it up to date with content and a good photo. It’s important that it’s well written and appears personal. Career advisers think writing a description in the third person can seem cold and detached.
Once you’ve established your profile, it doesn’t end there. It’s now time to use this platform to network:
- Join groups: LinkedIn has a wealth of industry groups. Target five, join them and start to engage. Ask and answer questions to get the most out of your group experience, build your profile, and network.
- Publish articles: LinkedIn encourages thought leadership, which can help further expand your contacts. As such, it’s an important platform to showcase your thoughts and ideas. Publish pieces regularly and invite feedback through your profile and in your groups.
Resources and further reading