Networking…the very word strikes fear in the heart of most business professionals. Images of strangers in suits, making painful small talk and passing business cards gives networking the appeal of blind dating with multiple strangers. In order to reap the benefit of networking, you need to understand what networking is and most importantly what it is not. Use these 7 tips to increase your networking “bang for the buck” and slide into your next networking event with the skills of a ninja master.
- Just Go. The number one mistake people make as it relates to networking, is NOT networking. Networking is not making a bunch of new friends that you want to hang out with on Saturday night. Although a friendship or two may develop from networking, the purpose of introducing yourself professionally to other professionals is to build a bigger pool of diverse relationships that can be mutually beneficial by making introductions for each other. Find a networking event that will bring together diverse industries such as banking, healthcare, and marketing. Look for free opportunities through your city chamber events, business journals mixers, and free educational events. Waiting to network until you need to network will not build you the relationships or resources you will need should your job change.
- Go alone. I know, I know. Networking would feel less scary if you had your business sidekick with you but invariably the two of you will end up standing in the corner of the room, drinking chardonnay and not speaking to a single soul. Or worse yet, those you talk with will see you as a “package” and remember little about your stand alone accomplishments or skills. If you have to have a buddy in order to make yourself go, make a deal that you will start on opposite sides of the room and not sit next to each other.
- Practice Your Elevator Speech. Have a succinct 2-3 minute speech that identifies who you are, what you are passionate about, and what your role is in making your company a better place. The obvious introductory question that is replayed at a networking event is “what do you do?” Which person do you want to know more about? The “Hi, I'm Angela and I work in Healthcare.” Or “Hi, I'm Angela. I lead and develop a team of leaders for a National Cancer Institute and am so passionate about leadership growth and potential that I write a leadership blog for women.” By sharing a few your personal goals and passions you open yourself up to relationship opportunities that otherwise would not happen. Perhaps the person Angela has just introduced herself to is a published author, or blog reader, or a woman that is interested in growing herself professionally. The first introduction would not have sparked much of a connection or interest unless the person she is speaking with also works in Healthcare. Which brings me to my next tip…
- Diversify. Do not network exclusively in your industry. Although networking within your company and within your field has a purpose and is important, you will benefit most from building a larger circle of influence that is diverse. You never know when the connection of a connection can help introduce you to your next big client, career opportunity or knows of a perfect board position for you with your level of expertise.
- Follow up. Failing to follow up and continue to build the relationship is one of the biggest mistakes new networkers make. If you have an interest in learning more about and connecting with a networking connection you need to take the next step. Send a follow up thank you email or I'm glad we were able to meet message on LinkedIn. Offer to connect for coffee to continue your conversation or invite them to another networking event you are planning to attend. If there was an immediate connection you would like to offer them, send an email and make a virtual introduction. Stay in touch. Out of sight is out of mind.
- Do something nice. Find someone in your network that you can do something nice for every week. Connect two people. Share an article you thought might interest them. Let them know about the latest leadership book you are reading that you think they would find interesting. Post a Linked In recommendation for a colleague. These small acts of building someone else's career will most certainly help them in their personal career pursuits but will also keep the relationship strong between the two of you. Plus it just feels good to help someone else.
- Join a professional networking group. Ellevate Network and Lean In Circles are just two of the growing female professional networking communities. They offer a local membership with a national networking platform that includes events, articles, education, podcasts for emerging and experienced women leaders. Being a member of a professional networking organization can help take the guesswork out of how to get started if you are a network newbie. Although I don't just limit myself to women's only networking opportunities, (you must develop and grow professional relationships with men as well) I do find that being part of a women's only group helps to elevate women to elevate women. The membership fees also help me to commit to the events (if I am paying for a service I would be foolish not to use it) and help remind me to pencil self-growth time on my calendar as well.
Last but not least I want to leave you with this thought. You are the only master of your personal and professional growth. Even if you are lucky enough to have a supportive boss and leadership team who promote you professionally, only you can make the connections and relationships to support your goals. Networking is one way to do yourself a personal favor. Now get out there and network like a ninja!
Angela is a healthcare executive, passionate leadership blogger at Leadershipelevateher.com, and loves speaking to groups about leadership culture. Network with Angela via LinkedIn and spread your inner professional circle.