Our networking 101 series will cover every element of growing your database of business connections, from finding the right people to connect with, to working the room and building meaningful relationships. In the first edition, we looked at how you can lay the groundwork by getting into the right mindset. In part two we examine how you can get started with building connections.
For most people, the fear of networking revolves around the big event – walking into a space full of strangers and having to ‘work the room’. Here’s how you can make headway on building up your contacts before you take that confident step out of your comfort zone.
1. REACHING OUT
In part one of this series we looked at the importance of knowing what you’re looking for out of your network. Revisit your notes and aim to get more specific. If you want to get your face more widely known in your industry, ask yourself what it is you want to be known for and to what end. If you’re looking for a mentor or to build up a group of people you can call on for advice, ask yourself what specific types of support you would most benefit from. Knowing the answers will enable you to be much more targeted when it comes to reaching out to people. How you find those individuals might become obvious through the exercise; if not, here are some starters for ten.
|Who/what||Idea for approaching|
|A mutual connection||Ask for an intro and follow up with an email of your own explaining why you think a connection could be mutually beneficial.|
|Social media||Follow industry figures on Twitter/LinkedIn and keep your ear open for any talks they might be giving or information they’re sharing that could be useful to you.|
|Internal staff directory||Invite for a coffee, explaining that you’d love to pick their brains about an area of the business they’re experts in.|
|Discussion groups – LinkedIn/Facebook||Request to join and then write an intro explaining who you are, what you’re about and why you’re interested in being part of this group.|
2. Building the relationship
Remember that the key to building a successful network is creating mutual benefits. When reaching out through any of the above mediums, consider what it is you’re offering in exchange. If you’re meeting someone within your organisation to understand more about their area of the business, ensure you build in time to question them about their own current challenges and how you might be able to help them out. Once you’ve joined a useful online group, think about your own participation levels and look for opportunities to contribute relevant articles or insightful comments. If you’re following individuals on Twitter who could prove extremely useful for you, think about how you can help promote their events or share their blog posts to a wider audience.
3. Get organised
LinkedIn is a fantastic database that does a huge amount of the work for you when it comes to keeping abreast of connections’ movements. But it’s a good idea to keep your own personal files too with regard your contacts book.
Create an email folder in which you can store emails and documents from useful connections. Serious networkers often keep a spreadsheet in which they compile data on individuals that can act as great icebreakers in the future. For example, if someone who you’re hoping to meet at a future event reveals via LinkedIn that they’re going to be taking part in a panel discussion, make a note of what they’ll be speaking on and when so that you can remember to ask them how it went. If someone’s recently moved jobs or shared an interesting blog post, make a note of it – you never know when it could prove a useful conversation starter.
Your spreadsheet can be as simple or as complex as you like. For example, you might categorise contacts by the type of role they play within your network (whether they are a connector, a mentor, a thought leader, a peer etc), along with information on what they’ve told you they need from their network and even personal details they’ve shared like whether they’ve children and what types of holidays they enjoy.
4. Start thinking about what you want to share
As you looked at ways to stay on top of the movements of your ever-expanding network, perhaps you began to give some thought to what it is you want to share with your contacts about yourself. As we discussed in part one of Networking 101, the hardest time to start growing a network is when you’re looking for a job – people can be mistrustful of those who start showing up at events asking for connections, introductions and references. It’s crucial to see the long-term value of the relationships you want to grow over the course of your career. What will interest people about you? How will your personal brand impact on how you conduct yourself in networking situations?
In the next part of Networking 101, we’ll look at how you can create brilliant elevator pitches that work in all kinds of different scenarios and with individuals at varying levels, both internally and external to your organisation. In preparation, have a think about how you’d currently answer the classic interview question: “Tell me about yourself?” or how you’d respond if the CEO popped up alongside you in the lift and asked what you were working on at the moment.