How often do you hear the word ‘networking’? Often enough I am sure. How do you feel about networking? What does networking mean to you?
I am huge fan of networking, but I feel networking has lost its value in a sense that many people don’t know how to network or evolve their networking skills accordingly. So I would like to change the idea of “networking” to “building relationships”. In today’s tough job market, anywhere in the world, one needs to go beyond the basic networking. Have you ever come across people who just simply start a conversation by giving you their business card at an event? Or they introduce themselves as their job role? I don’t recommend networking in this manner for 2 reasons (although there are more):
- First impressions matter. And, unless you are Steve Jobs, the chances are people will not be impressed with your business card or job title. Typically, at such events, there are plenty of people with fancy title who work for great companies. How will you stand out?
- You eliminate the social aspect of the conversation when you bring business as the first discussion topic. It makes it harder to get social and personal when someone starts with such an introduction. It’s a turnoff.
Instead, try introducing yourself as you would to anyone you meet. Why do people get so formal and business-like just because they are at a professional event? We are all still human and we enjoy a light conversation about something besides work. You are more likely to connect with people if you are not there to simply get their business card. Most often, people will not respond to you or stay in touch with you if you approach them in this manner. You would be surprised how often I meet people who ask me to get them a job or ask me for a career advice before they even tell me their name.
Connect with people on a social level. Talk about the food at the event, talk about the weather, talk about anything else, but don’t start with your work unless it is initiated by the other person (and even then keep it short and try to connect on a more personal level). Make sure people remember you and excited to stay in touch with you after the event. How can you do that if you are just a business card? Connect on a personal level whenever appropriate and stand out from the dozens of people that person might meet that day.
People don’t refer people and definitely don’t do business with people unless they know them, like them, and trust them. In order for someone to know,like, and trust you you must build a relationship with them. Meeting them at a networking event is only a small step in that direction. The biggest task comes after the event and that is called a ‘follow up’. That is you staying in touch and asking this person out for a coffee or a lunch to catch up and ultimately build a relationship with them. And, it doesn’t stop there. You want to stay in touch with them and keep them in your network from that point on. I know we are all very busy and it is hard to find time to build relationships but it is necessary. Here are a few tips on how to stay in touch with people:
- Send holiday cards/call people/congratulate on big events, etc.
- Organize dinners/host dinners at your house and bring together a small group of people
- If you are traveling and you know someone in a city where you will be, reach out to them and schedule a coffee while you are in town
- Catch up with people over coffee as often as you can
- Stay in touch on social media and share updates on your industry/work
- Pick up the phone and catch up that way whenever appropriate, share news from your end
- Refer others to do business with people you know. This is very powerful as giving is a huge part of one’s success in the long run
- Give, give, give whenever you can. You get what you give.
The goal here is to stay in touch and remain on people’s minds. I guarantee that if you put your efforts into building relationships with people you are more likely to find success and make great new friends than just doing basic networking at an event and keeping the relationships strictly limited to office email/phone.
So, put down your business cards and go connect as humans!