Some people are natural networkers. They don’t leave the house without their business cards, they’re always on LinkedIn, they use every social occasion to gauge if the person they’ve just been introduced to might be a useful connection. Not me. On the occasions that I’ve had to represent my company at a conference or seminar, I’d normally be the person hiding behind a pillar. Or staring intently at my tea. Or pretending to listen to, and delete, a string of voicemails that don’t really exist. Also, I ALWAYS forget to bring my business cards, so I’d have to do the “oh, sorry, looks like I’ve run out of cards” routine to make myself look like the kind of person who hands out so many cards they constantly run out and not like the kind of person who is stupid enough not to bring business cards to an external event. Once, at some godawful Hooray Henry property gathering, they had little plastic business card holders instead of name badges. I had to write my name on the back of someone else’s card and walk around with that, just to underline the fact that I really didn’t belong there.
But here I am about to leave work and start again, and if I don’t want to spend 183 days watching Jeremy Kyle and eating crisps, building up a network of contacts is really rather essential.
So, how do you go about networking? I’ll probably be writing more posts on this as I go along, but here are the initial musings of a networking novice:
- I’ve been surprised how friendly and supportive people have been when I’ve explained what I’m doing. Generally, people think it’s a brave thing to do and want to help in some way. So, if you are looking for something new, take every opportunity to tell people about it – family, friends, friends of friends. In a non-obnoxious way of course.
- Be bold. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice, or to ask if you can set up a meeting with someone. The worst that can happen is that they’ll say no, or that they don’t get back to you. In which case they might just have a million and one other things to worry about so don’t take it personally.
- Prepare. Take a bit of time to look at someone’s website or LinkedIn profile before you meet them, so you can ask slightly more intelligent questions than just “so, what is it that you do exactly?”
- Follow up on stuff. If you’ve met with someone, email or call them afterwards, set up another meeting, do the things you said you were going to do.
- Take notes. You’ll be surprised how quickly you forget what you talked about, which names were mentioned, etc. If you don’t want to interrupt the conversation with scribbling, you can always note down the important points immediately afterwards.
- If someone offers to help, don’t be afraid to take them up on it. If they didn’t actually want to introduce you to someone or put in a good word for you, they wouldn’t have offered.
I feel like I am only just dipping my toe in the networking pond, and given that the clock is audibly ticking down to my leaving date now, I definitely need to do more of it. So here is my Networking To Do List:
- Pull finger out and update LinkedIn profile. I don’t really like LinkedIn, but it seems an unavoidable evil. And my current profile is so boring I have to poke myself in the eye with a sharp object just to stay awake enough to make it all the way to the end. Which is not a great advert to prospective employers or collaborators, I would imagine.
- Go back over contacts I have made so far and follow up on any outstanding bits, particularly asking to be introduced to other people.
- Research local organisations, people and businesses that sound interesting. See if any people I know might be connected to them.
I will keep you posted on my progress over the coming weeks! And now I’ve written a public To Do List, I’d better actually get on it…
Do you have any good networking tips? If so, I’d love to hear from you!