The old adage ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ still rings true today, despite CV’s now listing reels of qualifications and skills. Although having the right experience is still essential and useful, having the know-how about how to build up your professional network successfully is a great string to your bow, as you never know when you might need a helping hand from one of your contacts. Networking is fast becoming a vital skill when it comes to developing business associates so here is my advice about how to get started…
How to build a network
1) Start small. If you aren’t used to talking to people one on one, starting your networking with people you already know over either coffee or lunch is a great way to start. Get used to making conversation, and ask questions such as “what’s new in your job?” and “what are you planning outside of work this year?”. This should help get you more used to this style of communication.
2) Get comfortable. No one said networking would be easy. Although networking can help get you answers, advice and introductions, it also pushes you out of your comfort zone and you are never 100% sure how things are going to develop. Learning how to settle into a conversation and be comfortable no matter what the topic will help boost your confidence and success.
3) Be realistic. It’s fine to reach out to people within your networking community for help and advice but you then can’t place conditions on the help they are willing to give – for example, you can’t ask for advice on an idea and then not fully explain your idea for fear that they will steal it. Networking is give and take.
4) Make use of events. Larger networking events are a good way to expand your network, however one way to lessen the stress is to take a friend if you haven’t been to this style of event before. If you aren’t sure who to talk to when you arrive, then head for the loneliest person standing alone, and make small talk, asking them questions about themselves, making sure to listen to the answers. People are always more comfortable talking about themselves in a first time conversation with someone.
5) Have business cards. Exchanging business cards is the ideal quick-fire way to swap details with someone. You should even have more than one type of business card to deal with different aspects of your identity and career portfolio.
6) Take your time. Networking is a slow process, with relationships being built up over time. Usually it isn’t polite to contact someone in your network just to get something for yourself, unless the topic is likely to be relevant or interesting to the person in question. Make sure you ask the right favours and provide help in return to build your network.
7) Make an email impact. When contacting someone from your network for the first time over email, getting the subject line right is vital to grab their attention. Highlight your interest in their work or industry and not what you want from them to give your email more chance of being read and not just dumped in spam.
8) Don’t sell. Probably one of the only times I would ever say this! But networking is very different from selling as you are cultivating and nurturing useful relationships. If you turn a catch up into a hard sell, then the other person won’t appreciate it and this could impact negatively on the relationship that you have developed.
9) Put others needs before your own. One reason networking is tricky is because the people we hope to network with are already living happy and full lives without us. Any networking overture that you make has to put their needs and priorities ahead of your own, for example, letting them suggest the time, date and place for meeting up, or whether you communicate via phone or email.
10) Say thank you. Just a coffee gift card or a small token of thanks is a nice way to show that you appreciate the introduction / reference / advice that the other person gave you.
11) Tread carefully with introductions. Firstly, don’t steal a network introduction. If a friend says they aren’t comfortable introducing you to someone in their network, don’t do so anyway using their name as an in. Just contact the required person by yourself. The same applies the other way round when introducing friends yourself – some people don’t like being introduced to strangers so always ask first. When introducing two people you know, but who don’t know each other, writing a nice, personal introduction can make all the difference and will also make both of your friends feel comfortable.
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