Since the advent of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the many other social networking platforms that have infiltrated our daily work lives, connecting with existing and potential business partners has become easier and more accessible for everyone, including old school networkers who didn’t grow up in this digital era. Because of these new platforms for communication and connectivity, some may think that the old school way of business networking is dying.
While these tools are definitely powerful, attending networking events, picking up the phone, and finding a way to provide value to those you want to get in contact with is still a great networking strategy amongst all this fancy tech.
I bring this up because this morning I attended my first networking event as a professional. The event, titled “Strategic Networking for Career Success,” was put on by the Puget Sound Business Journal. Having no real professional networking event experience, I had no idea what to expect. Would this be a two-hour meet and greet full of small talk and business card exchanges? Or would it be a seminar on how to build and grow your network?
Simply put, it was surprisingly neither. And by surprising, I mean positively surprising. The event was hosted by Teri Citterman, who is an executive coach and public speaker. I could tell right from the beginning that Teri was a very confident, well-prepared, and composed speaker, which always helps spark life into any event. She’s not a public speaker for no reason, and whether it was her enthusiasm or the cup of coffee that I inhaled after I showed up, I found her engaging from the start.
Without giving too much away from the event (these networking events aren’t free!), I wanted to share some invaluable information that I think everyone looking to network should know and utilize.
First, take advantage of the network you’ve already built. This seemed to be the theme of the event. This may sound obvious, but in my limited experience networking, I often observe that people are so caught up making new connections, whether in person or on LinkedIn, that they forget to nurture the connections they’ve already made. Admittedly, I do this too. I’m young, and I like to meet and connect with as many people as I can on a regular basis. It’s just how I’m wired. But sometimes, I simply forget to ping the people I’ve connected with already. Teri suggests trying to reach out to people you’ve connected with in the past everyday. Whether it’s a simple article emailed to their inbox, or a quick message sent to their LinkedIn/Facebook account, a little often goes a long way. If you’re trying to get in contact with a particular person, someone you’re already connected with could be able to help you. You never know until you ask.
Next, if you want to approach a person that’s involved with a business you’re interested in potentially working with or for, do your research on this person. This is especially helpful if you’re not sure who you actually need reach out to, and can be even more valuable if you know about the person you’re researching. Do you need to talk directly to this person, or would reaching out to their business manager be a better strategy? If you don’t know the name of the person, what job title do you need to find? Ask yourself questions like this, and do your diligent research on the person you wish to speak with. Without exactly calling it stalking, that’s essentially what you should do. If possible, find out their interests, whether they’ve been in the news lately, or what they’re currently working on. This will allow you to approach them in a professional manner while providing them with a reason to speak with you. Everyone loves having conversations about themselves, so find out something about them and nail down that personal connection.
Finally, here are a few random tidbits that I thought were important for anyone interested in establishing new networking opportunities or using their existing network to their advantage.
- When networking, make sure to listen, ask good questions, and make eye contact.
- You’re not ready to ask someone for something until they trust you.
- When speaking to your network, or asking for something, plan for the worst and rehearse.
Written by Luke Severn
Luke is a marketing coordinator at Kaufer DMC. He loves the Arctic Monkeys, David Fincher movies, and the Portland Trail Blazers.