Networking On and Offline
Very few people actually enjoy networking and those that do are lucky. The rest of us know deep down inside that we should, but we aren’t quite sure how to go about it. If you are someone that is still skeptical in the benefits of networking...that probably means you’ve never actually done any networking. So, here are a few simple steps to get you started.
Offline Networking: While social media is all the craze, offline networking is still where the meat of connections are made and where real opportunities will develop.
- Business Card: This is hands-down the most important element of networking. If you go to a great networking event and meet fantastic people, what is the point if you don’t give them something to remember you by?
Making a business card: Even if you are unemployed or a student, you should still have a personal business card. Think about your personal branding. What is your skill set as an individual? Are you creative, a good communicator, tech-savvy? Think about the skills you put on your resume. A personal business card should have your name, contact information, and perhaps 2-3 skill sets (optional though). Also try and think of a logo for yourself and carry that branding across from your business card to your resume to your cover letters. Vistaprint is an easy way to design and order your business cards online.
Using your business card: Always make sure you have a stack of business cards with you. You want to have one ready if someone asks you for one, or even better, take the plunge and offer your card to someone first (it is likely that they will in return give you their card…which is the ultimate goal).
Getting business cards: Getting someone’s contact information allows you to continue to grow a connection, which is really the only way to make networking “profitable.” Here is my process for handling other people’s business cards. When I get home, I take out the business cards collected for that day, enter the names and contact information into my computer’s address book. Then in the notes field, I make comments about how I met the person and why we connected (this step is crucial…it is too easy to forget who you met and where and if you can’t capture this information immediately, it will make it difficult to reconnect with them).
- Networking Groups: There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of networking groups in your city. You just need to find them! Start with organizations that you are already involved with and find out if they have any monthly get-togethers. Or use Google to search for specific, local networking groups. Sometimes networking organizations want you to pay for memberships. Before paying for a networking group or counting it out, try asking someone who is part of the group how their experience has been. Some of the groups that have membership fees are definitely worth the five dollars a month.
Make sure you have a connection with the “goal” of the networking group. For example, I do a lot of work with and in the nonprofit sector. I am also a young professional trying to find my way in the world. Over a year ago, while on an informational interview, it was suggested to me to check out this group called Young Nonprofit Professional Network for the Twin Cities. It turned out that they had monthly happy hours and I decided to go. It has been a great experience! So, try and find a group that represents your background and interests and go to one of their events.
*If you’re worried about going to a group for the first time, try bringing a friend who has similar interests as support.
- Conferences/Workshops: There are always conferences or workshops going on. Usually they cost a bit to get into, so if you don’t work for an organization willing to pay your way, try offering to volunteer in return for free entry. If it is a topic you are really involved in, it might be worth it to pay the fee. Not all workshops have a dedicated “networking” time, so take advantage of every moment.
Before the event starts. Wander around and mingle. You have a great conversation starter “So, what brings you to this workshop?”
The people sitting next to you. Always talk to the people sitting next to you. Find out why they are here and where they work. If you guys have a natural reason to connect offer them your business card.
After the event. During the event, pay attention to anyone who asks a question you are interested in or if you see anyone from an organization that you’d like to know more about. Find them after the event and strike up a conversation. Remember, you both just attended the same workshop, so you at least have that to talk about.
- Informational Interview: I will have an extended discussion about this next week in the “interview” section, but these are one of the most important elements to networking. Think of an informational interview as “continuing education.” They are opportunities for you to meet with people doing work that you would ideally like to be doing and you get to ask them how they got there, what they do daily, and if they have advice for you.
Online Networking: While networking offline is where the real connections happen, think of online methods as tools to aid your offline networking.
- LinkedIn: This should probably be the first place you start for professional online networking. Make yourself a little profile and start connecting. When you get a business card, try and find them on LinkedIn and then invite them to your network (a great way to remind people that they met you). Once they are in your network, you can see to whom they are connected, what groups are they a part of, do they attend other networking events?
LinkedIn is also a great place to find other networking groups. Browse the group sections of your connections and in general to find out where other people are meeting up. Try participating in the online discussion threads for the groups you join. Take part in the conversations and interact!
- Twitter: This is probably the second best place online for professional networking. You can use Twitter to build your personal brand by sharing articles of things you are interested in. Example, if you are a designer, you’ll probably want to share things related to the design field. Try and focus your tweets to content sharing. My rule for using Twitter professionally is that 80% of your tweets should link to a content rich articles and/or mention/retweeting someone else.
Use Twitter to follow other people in your industry and start a conversation with them. The easiest way to start the conversation is simply by retweeting anything “worthy” that they post. Respond to questions that they ask. Follow the people that they mention. Use this strategy when you communicate and build your network.
- Facebook: This is probably the last place to network online professionally because people still mainly use Facebook for personal communication. However, joining the Fan Pages of organizations or companies that you support is a good way to keep updated on what they are doing and what events they are hosting. See what groups and events your friends are attending and most importantly participate in the conversations of the organizations you support.
If you haven’t explored this source yet, get going! You can search for groups that are hosting “meet ups.” There are all sorts of groups for all different industries/interests. Challenge yourself to go to one Meet up a month.
Ning is a great way to find other networking groups or to start your own group. Find groups about all things from knitting enthusiasts to local woman entrepreneurs. You’ll be surprised how many people you might know in the Ning group for a local dog park you go to all the time. Search based on your interests and starting ninging!
While all of these tips are tools to begin networking, remember the real goal of networking is to make connections. Always try and think how can you help someone else. It isn’t about what you can get out of it. It is about sharing your skills and interests with other people to build real relationships.