Networking. It used to be all about who you know. Now, it's just as much about who knows you. You can be referred by others, found online or simply be known by reputation or profile in your niche, through growing your networks.
Networking has come a long way from the established ways of the "old boys" networks, which were mostly locale specific, face-to-face, long term relationships, often inter-generational, grouped around common interests of recreation and/or business.
The modern face of networking is still face-to-face but also virtual (with pictures often used as a substitute), connected to things of like interest (even if coming from a very different industry or sector), global not necessarily local and quickly developed through common groups or via active referral. These days there is much more diversity apparent in people's networks, as a result.
Why bother networking? Aside from obvious business benefits or potential job opportunities (which incidentally is better done early and continually, before you need it!) there are great social benefits. It is a boost to your wellbeing to meet new people who share common interests or aspirations. It's also wise to broaden your view from your industry to a wider cross section of the community and to be open to collaborations, referrals ( both giving and receiving) and potential partnerships. You will likely find your confidence and social skills grow as you step outside your comfort zone to develop your networking muscles.
Don't just network in your network - expand your horizons. Explore interests and learn about other sectors. I frequently hear of consultants in various fields, saying that they attend industry or their association's networking functions, yet they are mingling with colleagues in the same industry, whom they already know. Sure, it might be nice to trade war stories and you may be able to refer surplus work or leads to one another, but where are your potential clients and customers, or future employers? Time to think outside the square and get around a variety of groups and new people!
When it comes to attending functions, I advise to get there early - it's easier as there are less people and it gives you a chance to warm to the environment. I have often found my earliest connections at a function to be the strongest. Have business cards handy, ladies try to wear a jacket with pockets and keep your cards in one pocket and your new connections' cards in the other pocket. Believe it or not, people have actually given away others cards, instead of their own by mistake!
Enjoy networking and learning about other people and see where you can connect others together for mutual benefit. Ask, listen, and share with the people you meet. Bring others into the circle and look for ways you can contribute.
If you find it awkward meeting new people, consider using the three P's: place, past, purpose. Place is quite easy, asking and sharing about the venue, how you got there, traffic etc. as it's small talk that helps sets people at ease. Past relates to whether they have connected with this group in the past , if they are a member etc. Then, purpose is about why they've come along and perhaps what you have in common or how you can help them to connect.
Rather that this being a one-way interrogation, consider it a mutual and friendly discussion where you are trading information and stories. It should be a well matched game of ping pong, not a barrage of questions. If there is some commonality and you'd like to make contact again you might then say "It was great to meet you Dave, do you have a card? (and now I'd also ask: "and are you on LinkedIn?"), then exchange details. Have fun with it!
It's not a competition to see who can collect the most business cards and handshakes, by the end of the function. It's about making genuine connections. I will often make only 3 or 4 at a function, rather than a dozen fleeting hellos and goodbyes, where you may barely be remembered.
Engage. Connect. Give. Network!
In the next post we'll look at e-networking, where many of these points apply, just in a different context. 'til then! ~ Lois