Networking is something we do every day. Nearly every social setting lends itself to some form of networking as we are finding new connections all the time. It's important to embrace that which is natural and enjoyable about the process of everyday social networking before diving into the world of international, professional networking.
Networking allows you to build a community of support for your profession. Contacts can provide invaluable resources when you most need them. Great networkers can always find the right person for the job and spread goodwill to every aspect of their job hunting. However, no matter their natural aptitude for networking, professionals have tirelessly improved this often overlooked skill.
In the past, professional networking involved expanding your business relationships through networking events filled with business cards and small talk. The idea of randomly introducing yourself to strangers may even cause you anxiety. It is often because of unreasonable and often unrealistic expectations around your ability to navigate professional networking events. While this has historically discouraged new entrepreneurs, job seekers from developing their network, it comes at the tremendous expense of limiting your career growth potential.
Luckily, online networking is a convenient way to develop your networking skills using the same social media tools you've been effortlessly using for years. Forget the pressure of awkwardly introducing yourself and embrace an informed and organized approach to building your network. Apps like Linkedin or Shapr are explicitly created for this purpose and make forging professional connections nearly effortless.
Unfortunately, online networking does have a few disadvantages. It can take a long time to develop lasting relationships, or more often than not, your efforts are ignored. After all, it's a lot easier to miss an irrelevant email than an in-person introduction. It would help if you also looked out for scammers who use the anonymity of the internet to their advantage. These ten tips are designed to help you bound over these obstacles and facilitate a thriving online network.
1- Learning to be a "Giver"
Everybody has some expectation about what they want out of a new connection. Only the more experienced networkers are as conscious about what they are willing to put in as what they are ready to take out. Especially when forming new relationships, small expressions of giving like supportive social media comments can make a huge difference in facilitating long-term relationships. Even something as simple as providing a unique perspective can make the prospect of getting in touch with you infinitely more attractive. Online introductions that take the form of a request are not engaging and are typically ignored. It takes work to get to a place of mutual exchange.
On this note, a common mistake with online networking is to wait until you are desperate, perhaps seeking a new job before you start to reach out and grow your network. It means your introduction is all about taking instead of first developing good faith. Rather, try to build your network when you're feeling secure and helpful instead of when you're struggling. Getting into a tough spot is very common and understandable, but if you have a history of supporting your contracts, then there's a good reason they will return the favour should you fall on hard times. Ultimately, networking is an excellent tool for job hunting, but you need to start the process of giving before seeking.
Another common mistake is to ignore the requests for support from your established connections. It isn't as easy as it sounds. Maybe you had plenty of spare time for networking, but now you are in the middle of a busy season and cannot live up to your promises. Remember that even small efforts can make a huge difference for a struggling professional. If it becomes clear that you are only interested in receiving assistance and never returning the favour, then you'll find your connections will quickly go stale.
2- Embrace Mutual Connections
A great way to strengthen your online network and give back to your connections is to introduce them to each other. Maybe a colleague is looking for a good designer in the local area, and you can recommend one from your network. Recommendations are much more likely to result in the hire, and the employer will be thankful for your consideration.
It's crucial when making mutual connections that you think about what kinds of strengths and weaknesses your contacts have so that when you pair them, they can inspire the best in each other. A common mistake is to focus too much on logistical details like proximity for deciding to pair instead of thinking about who would work best together. In other words, try not to be superficial with your recommendations. Just because two contacts are in the same city does not mean that they are ideal for each other. Even if it doesn't work out, a quality recommendation shows that you are putting thought and care into both of your mutually connected contacts.
3- Focus on Lasting Relationships
Suppose your networks are failing to make any meaningful contributions to your personal or professional life. In that case, it's likely that you are focusing on short-term gains and not curating healthy long-term connections. Especially with online networking, where you don't have the benefit of an in-person meeting, it can take months or even years before you may see your relationship mature into a valuable connection. Email exchanges are easy but also slow.
When it comes to networking, there are generally two approaches: the Hare and the Tortoise. The Hare approach is loud, direct and face-paced. It cuts straight to business and leaves little room for a personal touch. The Tortoise, on the other hand, is slow, consistent and recognizes that each connection can have multiple forms of value. While the Hare may work in a high-pressure, in-person environment, the casual nature of online networking lends itself more to the Tortoise style. It also forces you to be more careful about the kinds of connections you grow. If you commit yourself to a healthy, long-term relationship, you need to be more specific about the types of people you need in your network.
A big part of thinking long-term is committing to the regular maintenance of your network. Stay in touch with your contacts. Share information that is relevant to them, invite them to events, and as always, try to respond when they reach out to you.
4- Consider Alternative Perspectives
Your ability to empathize with your network is a big part of what will contribute to its lasting success. Often this means thinking about material that is relevant to them and treating each contact individually instead of a more generic, one size fits all approach.
It is essential to make connections, possibly with hugely successful CEOs who live a very different lifestyle. It would be best if you recognized the demands of their workplace to determine what form your introduction should take and at what time they are available to the network. For instance, it's best to email a topic executive at 8 am when they are in the office, but their secretary isn't. A part of this is also doing your research to ensure that you provide a new perspective when you do reach out. Industry professionals have heard it all millions of times before, so if you want to get in touch, you're going need to understand the existing conversation and bring something new to the table.
Empathy also plays a role in allowing you to connect with individuals that you might otherwise reject. While a new connection might not have the most illustrious resume, you'd be surprised at what you can offer them and potentially in the future what they might offer you. A diverse range of connections can allow you to step outside of your industry bubble and surround yourself with minds that can innovate how you do business. Not everyone is worth connecting with, but nearly everyone is worth considering.
5- Connect With Gatekeepers
The world's busiest people are not managing their emails, phone calls and schedules. That falls to the assistants who organize their lives. Therefore, if you want to send an email to a top executive, you're going to need to go through their assistant first. Befriending and keeping in contact with assistants, therefore, not only gives you a better chance of having your communication received by their employer, but they also are a precious source for finding new contacts who pass through their inboxes.
A good tip is to start by trying to contact the individual directly. If you don't reply, try contacting them with their assistant looped in, especially if you have already established a giving relationship with the assistant.
It's essential to keep in mind that even if you've met in person, and you seem assured of their receptivity, that many executives will still route your communication through their assistants. Don't be offended. Take this as an opportunity to build another meaningful connection in your network. You might be surprised at just how important Gatekeepers become to your networking efforts.
6- Organize Your Connections
The regular maintenance of your network can be draining and inefficient if you aren't properly organized. Most professional networkers have sophisticated lists of their contacts arranged in a spreadsheet format to keep track of your history of communication and any relevant information for making mutual connections.
LinkedIn organizes and stores a lot of information for your networking needs, so if you're using this primarily, which you should be, then you're already in good shape. Other tools like Insightly and Contactually also allow you to keep track of your communication. You can tag contacts, zoom out to observe your network from an exterior perspective and keep details in order (like who introduced whom).
A big part of organizing your connections is setting aside the time to work on your networking consistently. Networking takes continuous attention, but it doesn't need to absorb all your free time. Online networking can be done quickly from your smartphone while waiting for an appointment or sitting down for lunch. Committing at least 20mins a day is a good starting point to ensuring your visibility with your connections.
7- Build Memories
A successful connection often comes down to the kinds of memories formed during its conception. The more personable, exciting and distinctive your introduction is, the more likely it is that you will continue to stick out in your contact's mind. It is especially true for online connections where it is intensely difficult to distinguish your neatly worded email introduction from the thousand or so generic ones which followed it.
For this reason, try to find online networking events that have an unusual spin. Maybe there's an activity involved? Or, out of curiosity, you attend an online mixer a bit outside your industry. Either way, this simple variation can go a long way to form a unique memory around your introduction which will frame your entire future connection.
If you have a hobby or sport that you are passionate about, remember that online communities and events linked to your passion are also great opportunities to network more. If you're lucky enough to find a relevant contact, your shared interest is an excellent first step to forging a healthy new connection.
8- Warm Calls
Most people have heard of some form of cold calling. There are plenty of strategies to force yourself to make vast numbers of these calls, and with enough research, there is a chance to establish meaningful contact. However, with the death of the phonebook, it is starting to become a much more time-consuming and less rewarding endeavour.
Instead, warm calls, contacting people you already know, who you want to reconnect or maintain contact is a great way to enhance your networking efforts. Please make a list of people you already know interested in integrating into your network and give them a call instead. The personal touch of a phone call will enhance existing relationships, helping with regular maintenance, and you might be surprised by the wealth of knowledge already at your disposal.
9- Facilitate with Real Life Meetups
Just because the connection started online does not mean you can't take things into the real world. Real-life meetups can have a tremendous positive impact on the continuation of your connection into the future. These provide an opportunity for you to demonstrate your passion for your network and prove your genuine interest in maintaining your relationship. It's easy to send an email. It takes some effort to organize a meeting.
When facilitating a real-life networking meeting, try to keep things short, less than thirty minutes, so it isn't such a significant deviation from the ease of digital communication while still gaining all the benefits of face-to-face communication.
If you're working remotely with an online team, consider some in-person meetings to enhance teamwork and community building. Something consistent and low pressure will go a long way to building good faith at the heart of your business.
10- Keep Things Short and Sweet
Without facial expression and tone of voice, the clarity of your written communication is all you have to prevent confusion. When you consider the narrow window of online networking, you want to ensure that your message is unmistakable and easily absorbed. Confusion will lead to your efforts being ignored.
The best way to enhance the accessibility of your messaging is to keep your writing as short as possible. Use short words, speak in short sentences and don't try to go much past five lines. You want your message to be read in less than 30 seconds from a smartphone. It can mean communicating in a single sentence.
Another way to achieve clarity is to provide a clear invitation for future communication. That can take the form of a question or a link to a relevant event, for example. It proves that you have thought through how you are relevant to this contact, and it ensures that their reception is nearly effortless.
Combine your crystal clear email with an enticing subject line to ensure your introduction is as attractive as possible.
Few things to remember
Networking is a critical tool for building lasting relationships that can organically grow your career. The connections you form often extend beyond the professional environment to inspire and challenge every part of your life. A good networker is surrounded by diverse and thoughtful voices which can guide them in unseen directions. They are also highly demanded individuals because of their rare ability to connect you with the people you need.
While we don't all have the time to become super-networkers with countless contacts, following the above tips will make a big difference in ensuring the time you take garners some results. Remember to focus on what you can give to your contacts before developing expectations about what they can return to you. It will make your introductions much more attractive and ensures that you're networking for the right reasons.
Try to avoid being too assumptive about the positions of others, and remember that the assistants are often the gatekeepers for communication with their employer, so treat them with kindness, and you will have made some precious contacts. Besides, networking with a diverse range of individuals, especially those outside your industry, ensures that you know people who others don't, and thus you have even more to contribute.
Finally, remember the casual nature of online networking. Do your best to facilitate a short, continuous chain of correspondence instead of overwhelming your contacts with long, demanding emails. Keep things relevant and focus on what new perspectives you're bringing to the table.
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