Networking is incredibly valuable, and there are plenty of great networking opportunities out there, from charity functions to LinkedIn groups to meet-ups to trade shows. To maximize the value and impact of your networking strategy, be sure to take a look at these do’s and don’ts.
DO get introductions from existing contacts. Think of the people you know that know your work and would likely recommend you to others. Then, reach out to them and ask for introductions to relevant contacts. This is a great way to expand your network, and some day that friend of a friend might come in handy. And make sure you return the favor!
DO get active on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is, without a doubt, a powerful networking tool. If you aren’t already active on LinkedIn, now is the time to get a profile up. Make sure you make your profile as strong as possible by uploading a professional photo and filling out all of the relevant details. Once you have a profile, you can use the site to connect with relevant professional contacts and send out messages once you’ve identified targets.
DON’T spam people. While getting active on LinkedIn is great, there is a crucial important caveat to this point: don’t spam people. You need to think strategically about who you are targeting and why. In other words, just because you can send an automated message out to all of your LinkedIn contacts doesn’t mean that you should.
“If you were to think of connecting on LinkedIn as you behave in person at a cocktail party, think about how you approach and interact with people you just meet. Once you get introduced to someone new, do you, one second later, regale them with information all about your packages, services and programs, and offer them a free one-hour consultation? I’m hoping no,” Kathy Caprino explains in Forbes. “Pitching people you don’t know, whom you have zero idea about in terms of their needs, wants, goals, visions, professional focus, etc. is like casting a net into the shallow tide of the sea and expecting to catch a whale.”
DO join and participate in local business organizations. If you’re a business owner or entrepreneur, an especially valuable networking tip is to get involved with local business organizations. Here, you will have the chance to meet other like-minded people in your area and can gain valuable information about local resources that can help your business to succeed. If you’re wondering where to start, try your local Chamber of Commerce.
DON’T go to a networking event without having prepared. People often make the assumption that the best networking happens organically, but the reality is you need to have a plan and you need to act deliberately. You can’t just walk into a networking event without having prepared and expect everything to go off without a hitch.
“As you grow and change, your network will need to grow and change, and this can only happen if you are deliberate,” Allison Jones explains in Fast Company. “Heading to a conference? See who else will be there, schedule a time and place to meet, and think a bit about what you'd love to talk about. Love informational interviews? How often will you do them so you continue to make meaningful connections and grow in your career? What your networking looks like depends on your commitments, but it's key to be deliberate about trying.” Ultimately, the key to all successful networking is planning and deliberation. Don’t sit back and expect to get results spontaneously.
DO become a friend first. You can do this by making personal connections with another person around hobbies and interests. As a general rule of thumb, to focus on making more meaningful connections it’s good to advance narratives instead of just advancing facts. “When someone asks you what your job is, tell them that and also what you did previously,” Rich Bellis explains in Fast Company. “This way you won’t just be talking about your jobs (sharing data), you’ll be talking about your careers (swapping stories). That makes for better conversation, which is an upside all by itself.”
DON’T wait for others to come to you. There is nothing more ineffective than going to a networking even only to stand in the corner and twiddle your thumbs, waiting for someone to approach you. Instead, go out and approach people. The best way to do this is to find other people who are standing alone and go up and break the ice with an introduction.
DO offer something of value. When networking, you don’t just want to think what you can get out of the situation. You also have to think about what you can give. “That’s how you create a network of people around you: You need to give. It’s a challenging thing to do, but we need to help lift each other up,” explains Rachel Weiss, VP of Digital Strategy & Innovation at L'Oreal USA, who advocates viewing networking as a kind of “collaborative economy.” Think about an interesting article you might have to share with the acquaintance, some interesting contacts you might be able to introduce them to—anything of value, really.
DON’T talk more than you listen. Good networking isn’t about talking about yourself. It’s also about listening to what others have to say and responding appropriately. “There is no bigger turn-off than someone who loves to hear the sound of their own voice,” Anapaula Lagarriga explains. “Listening, and learning the art of it, is a habit worth forming. It is through true listening that one is able to ask the right questions and make a memorable impression that will lead to good follow-ups, an increased ability to connect others, and stronger relationships.”
DO ask questions. When you’re in a networking situation, one of the best things you can do is ask questions. This will not only help you to connect with people, it will also help you to figure out how you can help them and what you might be able to bring to the table.
DON’T ask who they know. Of course, while it’s good to ask questions, there are a few questions that are off limits. This includes asking a new acquaintance who they know and then trying to wrangle an introduction. “It's not polite to ask new acquaintances who they know. “As tempted as you might be to ask someone you're meeting for the first time ‘Oh, you work with XYZ Corp as a consultant? Who do you know over there?’, don't do it,” insists Liz Ryan in Forbes.
In conclusion, it is well worth your time and energy to hone your networking strategy. Doing so is an excellent way to build up your professional network, and can reap rewards in the long-term. And don’t forget, good networking should occur both offline and online. Contact the 10twelve team to discuss your overall business and marketing strategy.