I am not the world’s chattiest person – those who know me well may chuckle at that understatement – so I need to be a little more deliberate about maintaining my professional network than some people. I have done all of the basics for years. I keep up with former colleagues (admittedly not as often as I would like), I am active on LinkedIn (find me here), and I readily engage over social media (please say ‘hi’ or ‘like’ this blog). But as I have mentioned in previous posts, one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to meet new people, so I did a little research into stepping up my game.
I discovered two tips that really changed the way I think about networking:
Tip 1: Get strategic. In his article, Five Strategies for Fitting Networking into Your Busy Schedule, Timothy Lemke makes a great point about focusing your efforts on those people who can expand your network the most.
“For example, say you run a storage and “junk” removal business, which can typically benefit greatly from networking and word-of-mouth referrals. Attending networking events for real estate agents or estate sale planners would offer more potential client leads for your business than attending, say, a local ad club or chamber of commerce meeting… focus on these type of networking opportunities that offer the chance to meet people who can refer business, rather than trying to directly network with potential clients.”
Using this strategy, one strong connection could result in hundreds of new customers, which would take you years to collect on your own. The 80/20 rule appears again. If you are going to spend the time, money, and effort to attend an in-person networking event, choose wisely!
Tip 2: Get sneaky. Not creepy sneaky… more like private investigator sneaky. Hal Humphreys (which totally doesn’t sound like his real name) wrote a great article for Fast Company called Five Networking Secrets from a Professional Spy. Read the full article if you have a chance – the tips are really unique: gather intelligence, asset recruitment, mirroring, etc. Overall, he advocates picking your target, learning everything you can about them, and then making them feel as comfortable with you as possible. I love the technique, because it seems like it would be very hard to be nervous while you are focused on mirroring the other person and fitting into their conversation. His approach sounds sneaky, but an interesting way to think about networking. Using different language, he is really just talking about doing background research in advance and practicing active listening!
It is unfortunate that the word “networking” conjures up images of awkward cocktail events with name tags and finger food. Networking doesn’t need to be that awkward or aimless.
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