Whether you love it or hate it, networking is necessary. After all, we’ve all heard that adage “It’s not what you know, but who you know” — and, to an extent, it’s true. Instead of merely racking up business cards or LinkedIn connections, however, think of networking as a valuable opportunity not just to meet others, but to build relationships with them, too. Creating long-term connections is likely to be much more helpful not only in terms of building your own professional reputation and personal brand, but also in discovering new professional opportunities. You may also find more opportunities to help others.
The next time you head to a networking event, keep these 3 tips in mind. They’ll help shift your frame of mind into relationship building rather than a race to see how many people you can meet in a given timeframe.
Help others first. Imagine you’re at a networking event and someone comes up to you, makes an introduction and dives immediately into a request for help or assistance. It’s a little off-putting, right? The next time you meet someone, focus on how you can help that individual first. The most successful networkers are good at making other people feel important. Look people in the eye, repeat their name, listen to what they have to say, and suggest topics that are easy to discuss. Be a conversationalist, not a talker. No matter how small a promise you make—such as sending an email or returning a phone call—delivering on that promise reflects on your character. By following through on your word, you start building a reputation for trustworthiness, which is exactly how every great networker wants to be perceived.
Once you do help that person, the individual will not only be grateful—he or she will be ready to help you, too, whether it’s by making a connection, scouting out employment opportunities or with something else.
Facilitate introductions. Make meeting and connecting with others a regular part of your professional development routine. Creating one-off connections won’t be as valuable in the long-run as a continually growing network that helps you immediately tap into various companies, industries and areas of expertise. And as your network grows, don’t hesitate to connect like-minded people with each other, too. You’ll soon be seen as a super-connector, and people will reach out to you as a result of your skills.
Follow up. Once you’ve met someone, stay in touch. Sure, there’s a fine line between being proactive and being annoying, but you want to increase your chances of staying on someone’s radar screen. Connect with that person on sites like LinkedIn so you can stay up-to-date not only with that individual, but with the information he or she is sharing, too. Suggest getting together for lunch or coffee to catch up. Or if you see a blog post, article or other content that you think is especially relevant to that person, send a quick email. Keeping an emphasis on helping someone else — rather than on immediately helping yourself — will quickly boost your professional reputation. Then, when you do find yourself in need, you’ll be infinitely more likely to receive the assistance you need since you’ve already done so much for others.
Networking is undoubtedly effective, but it can be time-consuming, too. Think of what you want to achieve by building your network of connections, and outline goals that will help you meet those objectives. Setting aside just a few minutes a week to meet someone new or reach out to a person who’s already in your network is an effective way to keep networking at the top of your to-do list without becoming overwhelmed by juggling a network that’s so large it becomes daunting.
What other tips do you have when it comes to networking and building relationships? We’d love for you to add your input in the comments!