Networking – what it is and what it isn’t
I recently facilitated interactive training for a regional finance team on how and why to engage in professional networking. It starts with a definition, which in itself is interesting! The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business”. Whereas the Oxford dictionary defines it as “a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes”. No doubt, if you ask a dozen people then you will get a dozen answers where answers depend on an individual’s use of networking!
Whether networking is for making new friends, finding a new role, career exploration or development, securing referrals or generating leads, or simply to expand your professional horizons, it’s quite helpful to see networking as an exchange of information, contacts or experience.
Sounds so obvious, right? Leaving us to figure out how to network with less effort and, with some luck, become a role model for others to do the same.
The where of networking
You have undoubtedly heard all of the tried and true networking methods of “working a room” or “connecting” at industry events, business dinners, and of course conferences. Brilliant, easy but there is one tiny glitch. Traditional options are not available to us as we work our way through Covid19 and depressed travel! We need to consider new networking avenues and methods, likely for quite some time. Several options surface:
- Attend virtual conferences and networking events.
- Connect with individuals that would have attended in-person conferences in prior years.
- Reconsider geographic boundaries and connection methods.
- Create your own online networking group.
Armed with the “where” of networking, we now consider the “how” in this environment. You’ll be relieved to know that virtual networking is easier in many ways that in-person networking (I don’t know about you, but I am all about easier and quicker).
The how of networking
Six actions you can take:
- Just check in. Genuine relationships are built when you show up. It means connecting just to say hello or see how they are doing (lots of opportunity for that right now). No one loves being contacted only when the other person wants something!
- Be especially thoughtful. Remember when reconnecting with people, many are experiencing varying degrees of chaos and stress with the pandemic. It simply means be particularly empathetic and put yourself in the shoes of the other person in the time and place they are.
- Do your homework. Use tools like LinkedIn, WeChat, Facebook, Twitter and Google to get information about someone, including mutual contacts and interests. This insight breaks the ice when connecting for the first time. It’s hard not to appreciate that kind of effort to meet you. Also keep an eye on where the communities you are interested in are showing up online. See who’s supporting their membership, those are the ones that will thrive later on as well.
- Work your existing network. Engage with your network and become relentlessly helpful but remember to consider how they might also help you. Comment on posts, Tweets or Blogs. Share your thoughts, article links, YouTube videos or photographs to augment engagement (it helps embed SEO hooks). This approach helps you showcase your best self and potential to others.
- Figure out which social media platform is best. Each platform has a purpose, for instance finance tends to favour LinkedIn whereas marketing tends to favour Twitter. Meetup is a community founded on creating genuine connections with common member interests. Armed with this knowledge, make sure your profile is current and photos appeal (and are current). Always customize connection requests – I personalize the connection request by referencing someone or something we have in common.
- Start a blog. Share content that attracts people. A unique video, something we can discuss together or a thought leadership piece. Blogging allows you unfiltered direct sharing and, when done well, allows you to tap into Google’s SEO algorithm to reach an even wider audience!
Putting it into practice
Remember one critical ingredient in networking: nurturing your relationships with people! How you treat your network today is going to determine the quality of the network you have in the future. Invest in it today and see it payoff tomorrow.
Give these steps a try, the world may seem like a big place but in reality we’re all just a few small connections away from each other! Start expanding your network by joining my LinkedIn Group where we engage in unlocking the “Power of Potential” through skill mastery.
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