Networking can be confusing to some, and somewhat uncomfortable to others. It almost requires walking a fine line between being friendly and being pushy or selfish. Being friendly with close associates is one thing, but buddying up to someone for the sake of professional networking and self-promotion may come off to some people as being manipulative and insincere, when in fact it should not be any of those negative things.
To help you along, I have put together a list of ten networking tips:
1) The first thing you need to do is change the mindset of networking. Networking is a two-way street, and not just your way. You should be looking out for how to help others, and not just be asking others for help. It is only after you have proven yourself a valuable “asset” to them that you should expect to begin asking favors. Networking is about building a relationship, not just getting something from someone. It is more important for you to understand the needs of others before you seek your own needs; that is the best way to build a more meaningful and “profitable” relationship. People who just use and take for themselves are usually easy to spot and do not get as much attention as those who sincerely help others along the way.
2) It is not about how many you know, but about knowing the right people. Getting an email or business card into the hands of a mass of people is not a proper way to network. You should spend your time finding people relevant to your goal, and spending the time developing that relationship. It is much better to have five people in your network that are willing and able to help you than it is to just have your name known by a multitude.
3) When you first make contact, do not immediately expect something from them. When you make the contact, not everyone will respond back, but for those that do, take the time to learn about them. Find out interesting things about them, and how you can help them without expecting anything in return.
4) While it may happen occasionally that you stumble across someone that turns out to be an amazing networking resource, do not rely on those chance encounters. Be proactive and have a purposeful direction in your networking. Making a list of people that you wish to contact and seeking them is almost always a good idea.
5) Branch out beyond your career field. Like you, most people have multiple interests aside from just a specific industry, so reach out and connect to people in various fields. Also, having contacts outside of your normal industry circles can be beneficial when you least expect it. You never know who might know someone who knows someone who has a family member in a field of interest. Hopefully you get my drift – knowing people outside of your field can benefit you in who they may know. As mentioned above, it is not always about getting what you want, but in helping others, and that may one day come back to benefit you in unexpected ways.
6) Making that initial contact can be a bit unnerving, and not knowing how to approach it is what turns many people away. People are busy, especially if you are making professional contacts, and you may feel they are not initially willing to take the time to speak with you. If you keep your approach simple and quick, to just get your foot in the door, it can go a long way. Respect them and their time, and simply approach them with “I have a quick item I’d like to discuss with you, it should only take a minute or two; do you have the time now to discuss it?”
7) Make the initial contact, whether in person, on the phone, or by email, short and sweet. Long drawn out emails or messages or meeting requests are not the optimal way to build that relationship. As mentioned above, do not just immediately ask for favors, but simply make the initial contact and maybe offer them a little sincere praise. Keep things brief, and slowly build a relationship before asking for lengthier meetings or more of their time.
8) While most of the time you can take the time to build the relationship, there are those times where you need to ask for something from the start. If this is the case, you should still initially start slow, and then ask their permission to continue with your request. Do not just start engulf them with a long drawn out story or request, but take it slow and ask them along the way if it is okay to tell them more. You can tell if their interest is peaked or if you are becoming more of an irritant. If it is the latter, then maybe make it short and seek to approach them in the near future. Maybe it was just bad timing at that particular moment.
9) Make networking a daily habit. If you spend as little as five minutes a day reaching out to contact one person each day, that will be over 250 new contacts a year. Now not every one of them will respond, and not all of them will be those that you wish to build a deeper lasting relationship with; but you can easily see how a little time can go a long way. Someone saying “no” to you should never be taken personally. You could have caught them at a bad time, and making contact further down the road may be more fruitful.
10) Switching things up may prove more beneficial. If you have emailed someone multiple times and have gotten no response, maybe you should try another approach. Set up a face-to-face meeting or just drop by to meet them (depending on their availability of course). Failing to get a response in one avenue of approach is not always a complete failure, just try other options.
Hopefully some of these points have been helpful and will prove useful in helping you to build a better, stronger, and more fruitful networking relationship. The old adage “do unto others as you would have other do unto you” is a good rule of thumb. Seek to be an asset to others, and find how much of an asset they in turn become to you.