22We all know we need to network, so we dutifully have business cards printed, we join associations, we sign up for social media sites and we attend events. Uncomfortable in a crowd of strangers, we stand around waiting for networking to happen, or we spend the whole time talking with the colleague we came with. OR we don’t participate online. The problem is, while we know we should network, many of us aren’t sure how to do it. So here are some tips—updated for the social media age—for creating a powerful network.
- The Golden Rule of Networking: Work for your network. Don’t look at networking with the idea of “what can it do for me?” See yourself as a resource for every one of your contacts. Be a matchmaker. Send business and job leads to your contacts. Like most things in life, what you get out of your network depends on what you put into it first. The most powerful network is the one that is made up of people who owe you favors.
- Remember that everyone else in the room has sweaty palms, too. Concentrate on making other people feel at ease, not on your own insecurities.
- Name tags help. Wear your name tag on your right side, as close to your face as possible, with your first name printed as large as possible. Always include your last name and company.
- NEVER get caught without a business card. Tuck extras in your wallet, computer bag, glove compartment, etc. Carry a stack to every event, and keep them handy. If you’re between jobs, print simple ones with your contact info.
- Learn to “work the room.” Don’t gravitate toward people you already know well. Don’t sit with people you work with. And don’t sit until you have to. Make it your goal to meet at least 10 new people at every event. You’ll get better every time you practice.
- Develop and rehearse a 30-second “elevator speech” that answers the most common question at any network event: “What do you do?” It should include two or three sentences that describe who you are, what you do and the kind of contacts you hope to make. For example, “Hi, I’m Barbara Gibson. I’m a cross-cultural communication consultant and trainer. I work with global companies to help optimize the performance of international teams, and I help executives manage and communicate more effectively across cultures.”
- Be a networking matchmaker. As soon as you meet a new contact, begin thinking about who you can introduce this person to in the room (and in your network).
- As soon as possible after meeting new contacts, jot down notes on the back of their business cards. Your notes (for your eyes only) should include memory joggers (mustache, red hair), reminders of where you met, what you discussed, things you have in common.
- The next day, transfer their details and your notes into your contact management system. (This can be as simple as the Contacts file in Outlook.)
- Follow up! Send a short note or e-mail to strengthen the initial contact. This is where your notes from No. 8 come in handy. For example, “I enjoyed meeting you at last week’s IABC meeting. It’s good to know I’m not the only cricket fan in the group. I’ll keep my eyes open for a photographer for that project you mentioned. Hope to see you again soon.” A word of caution: Unless sales information was specifically requested, your first follow-up should not be marketing-oriented.
- Maintain contact. Develop a tickler system to remind you to touch base at least every 6-12 months. Any contact counts. Consider connecting on LinkedIn or another social media site. You can also send links to articles that might interest them, send invitations or comp tickets to company events, or better yet, send them a business contact that will benefit them.
- You can do No. 10 and No. 11 even if you haven’t actually met! For example, you attended a lunch meeting and the keynote speaker is someone you’d like to get to know, but didn’t get the opportunity to meet (or did, but it was just a handshake). Try to get a card (or obtain a mailing/e-mail address from the event organizer) and send a short note or e-mail saying, “I heard your presentation at yesterday’s IABC meeting, but didn’t get the chance to tell you how much I enjoyed it. I hope I get the chance to meet you sometime soon.” Again, include your card or contact details, and plan for further follow-up. If you get the opportunity to meet in person, introduce yourself with a reminder of where you saw the person before, and a mention of your note. You’ll now have the beginnings of a solid contact.
- All the tips above also apply to online social networks. The online counterpart to name tags, business cards and elevator speeches are fully completed profiles that include enough information for people to get to know you and see if you have things in common. Every profile should include a photo (a close-up of your smiling face), and your full name. Provide links to your web site, blog or other social media profiles. The more you cross-pollinate, the more your network will grow.
- List your professional associations and other organizations you’re involved with in your profile or in a key words list, so other members can find you. Then search for those key words on each site and link up with fellow members. This strengthens your off-line connection, and opens up additional contacts in their networks.
- Join groups in social networks, and then join the discussions. Provide information such as links to articles that would interest the group, and respond to the questions and comments of others.
- Make sure you’re engaging with others, not using social media as broadcasting medium. Commenting on other people’s blogs and re-tweeting and responding to other people’s tweets will do more to build relationships than writing long posts that no one reads or sending a series of one-way tweets.
— Barbara Gibson, ABC, is an intercultural communication consultant, trainer and social medial coach based in the U.K., with clients worldwide.