1. Show don’t tell: prove your worth to the person you’re asking for a reference or an introduction
Unless you’re someone who just loves networking, the chances are you attend more events and reach out more when you’re looking to grow your business. The problem with pop-up-when-you-need-something networking is that your connections will eventually see through it and may end up feeling used.
The fix is to ensure that wherever possible, rather than asking for favours outright, you demonstrate your worth. “If you’re looking for new business, don’t ask for it - work for it. Do some research into what your contact does both in and out of work and find ways that you can contribute your time or support. Perhaps you could volunteer your expertise in social media for the big convention she’s heading up, or offer your accounting knowledge for her non-profit. Provide some opportunity for contacts to see you in a working light, and you’ll be that much closer to a good referral,” says Diane Kulseth of Three Dee Marketing in The Muse.
2. Be in the know: don’t turn up to an event without having read the day’s news or scoured the latest edition of your industry’s trade magazine
Current affairs, particularly those that relate to your business or sector, might just come up in conversation, and if you haven’t genned up, not only do you run the risk of appearing uninformed, you’re also have nothing valuable to add to the conversation.
“Read the news. Consider it your homework for building a more engaging personality and as a critical element in establishing your relevancy.
Your industry will be impacted by world events. Maintain at least a basic awareness of global situations or risk labelling yourself as non-visionary and not address book-worthy. After all, if you're networking with a bigwig but didn't hear about their recent bankruptcy filing or the fact that they've been bought by another company, you're going to look awfully foolish,” writes business coach Heather Dugan in Salary.com.
3. Ask not what your network can do for you, but what you can do for your network
Everyone at a networking event is looking for something. And since the best way to earn goodwill from others is to provide something they need, approach your conversations as opportunities to discover the ways in which you might be able to help your connections out first.
“Networking can be described as the process of interacting or engaging in communication with others for mutual assistance or support. Networking is a ‘give and take’ thing and going the extra mile to help others will help inspire other people to go the extra mile for you. If you’re known as a person who can deliver, people are more likely to remember you — and more likely to reciprocate when you’re the one asking for a favour or a referral,” writes career coach Yvonne Ruke Akpoveta in her blog for OliveBlue.
4. Tread gently in the follow up – selling yourself too hard can leave the wrong impression
That you should follow up with your connections after a networking event is a given. But many make the mistake of launching into a sales pitch as to why they should be introduced to their new contact’s boss or deserve a recommendation for that job.
“Develop the relationship by finding out more about them, seek to be of service and continue to build that relationship. Reference a point in your conversation and offer them something of value - an informational article, resource link or introduction. Keep thinking about ways to build ‘relationships’ and be of service. You’ll find your networking will start yielding more connections, friends, referrals and opportunities!” advises Businessknowhow.com’s Sue Clement.
5. Reach Out: bake these words into your calendar and watch your network explode
Special projects contributor for Forbes, Molly Ford Beck, had an epiphany when she first moved to New York City: “The only difference between my friends that were successful and the ones that weren’t was who they knew. What if instead of waiting for interesting people to reach out to me, I reached out to them?” And so she set about creating a network using one simply but highly effective strategy: she includes the task ‘Reach Out’ on her daily to-do list.
“Suddenly it didn’t matter that I didn’t grow up in Manhattan, that I didn’t go to an Ivy League school, or that at the time, I didn’t have a particularly cool job. Sending ROs on a daily basis changed my life - both personally and professionally - by exploding the number of people in my network.
“This past week my ROs included emailing the author of the book I just finished to compliment his work (something I try to do after every book I enjoy); sending a former intern a job listing for the type of role she is looking for and offering to introduce her to the HR person; and Twitter direct messaging a friend of a friend to ask if she’d like to grab coffee because we both work in marketing.
“One of the reasons I do one RO every weekday is because it stops me from getting too hung up on one person’s response. If someone doesn’t write back, that’s okay because I sent four more emails that week. I also keep each individual message short – just a few sentences - so most of my ROs take under 10 minutes to write and send. Because of ROs, I’ve met and/or strengthened connections with hundreds of people. My own mentor is a great example – her long-term guidance in my career all started with a three-sentence email I sent after meeting her by chance in January 2011.”
6. Quantity matters too: build your network up so that you don’t end up over-relying on a few core connections
The networking newbie often makes the mistake of asking for too much, too soon. But beware falling into a similar trap once you’ve put the time into building a relationship.
“It’s possible to overextend a close connection. For example, when someone offers to provide you with advice during the job search process, that’s great - but you likely don’t want to ask if he knows anyone, if he has any advice for someone new to the industry, and if he can proofread your resume,” cautions business writer Sara McCord in The Muse.
7. Have fun and focus on creating shared moments
A network event is unlikely to be an enjoyable occasion if you enter into it with a tick box mindset. “People remember experiences – when you shared a laugh, got through a hard time, celebrated a success, had some fun, or went out of your way to connect with someone,” says Mou Mukherjee, Director of Marketing at .CLOUD.
She advises focuses on making memorable moments together rather than business transactions: “We work in a very stressful environment at times, small things can make a big difference. And it is because of relationships that I am where I am today. My boss Francesco, was a former business partner of mine, and I was connected to [my organisation’s parent company] through a previous job in the industry.”