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Networking is a business building activity that most often fills people with dread, plans that have suddenly come up and negative self-talk. It’s why there’s plenty out there about helping people understand the “art of networking.” But how can it all lead to real relationships that go beyond the moment? These are some strategies that will help you level-up your networking skills and turn the people you meet from business card transactions into meaningful relationships that last.
Ask the questions.
At first glance, no one really cares what you’re doing. Most people want to tell you about what they are doing. While that can sound selfish, it’s okay! Most people have an agenda already in mind, so if you show up and say that “I’m really just here to listen and learn,” it makes the networking side of things a whole lot easier. Your questions are suddenly easy to ask.
Some questions to try include:
- What are you working on?
- How did you make that transition from your previous work into this?
- That is so unusual, how are you feeling about it now versus when you got started?
- What’s the next big thing on the horizon for you?
- What kind of help did you come here looking for?
Using this approach, you will learn more about them, you’ll be able to suss out if a follow up is worthwhile and you will have made them feel good about themselves — which they will no doubt remember.
Wrap up your conversation in two ways: “Thank you for sharing that all with me, I don’t think I can be helpful so I won’t take up any more of your time. So nice to meet you!” or “With all that you must know a bunch of people here, anyone else you think I should meet?” Nine times out of ten, people will walk you over for an introduction to someone else.
If you decide to share what you’re working on, keep it brief and get their card. Most people are so anxious about talking to new people or focused on what they are planning to say next that they aren’t really listening to you, even if they asked you the question in the first place. That’s okay! Send them a “nice to meet you” email in the morning instead. Include who you are, thank them for sharing that special thing or piece of advice with you, reiterate what it is that you’re working on in less than two sentences, and make a specific ask for how they can be helpful — and you know this because you have looked them up on LinkedIn and have identified people that they know that you are interested in connecting with.
Don’t be needy.
You never want to be the person that only reaches out because they need something: They want an introduction, they need a new job, they need feedback on a presentation, they want to take your time. Building your network is all about curating relationships over time. If you do it right, people are going to ask you for support before you need to ask them for help. If the only time people hear from you is when there is a problem (or, for founders, when you need more money), you’re likely to quickly become somebody that people talk about, and not in a good way.
One of the best ways to do this is by sending out a quarterly personal email update. Curate the people from your network that you have made a real personal connection with — not everybody you’ve ever gotten a business card from, but people you have really followed up with, talked to at more than one event, remember the conversation you had, that asked you for something, or who always hit “like” on your LinkedIn posts.
The email should be brief, but full of information. Include a few sentences about what you have been focusing on and have accomplished in the last quarter. Then include a specific ask for something you need help with, a big thing that is coming up in the next quarter for you, and any traveling or events that you’ll be attending with an invitation to meet up at them for coffee. To wrap it up, thank them again for being a part of your support network and remind them that if there is ever anything that you could help them with to reach out because you will be so happy to do so.
And even though you would never forget to do this, use that BCC. Nobody wants their email blasted out to a bunch of people they don’t know.
Take the offer.
If someone offers you something, 99.99% of the time they mean it. So let them give it to you. If you’re at an event or attending and someone says “Email firstname.lastname@example.org, I want to know about what you’re doing or I am willing to do XYZ thing,” they are not the kind of people who are just doing it to be nice. They don’t have time to just be nice. They’re too busy driving forward whatever they are working on to just be nice. They’re doing it because they want to give back and make a difference. So if someone says to you, “Go through my LinkedIn and let me know if an introduction to someone would be helpful” — go through their LinkedIn. They are giving you free reign to stalk them and ask for whatever you need.
It’s a filtering system. They’re not only trying to see if you are worth their time. They are trying to see who in the room will take them up on the offer because they have the drive and the interest and the perseverance to take advantage of what they are being given. That’s how you not only demonstrate that you deserve to succeed, but that you are willing to put in the work to get to go the extra mile.
Networking is a lot more than just showing up to events and looking for the right people who can help you. It’s about being intentional in how you build a community around yourself and how you can become a valuable part of the community that others have created for themselves. Stay reflective, be authentic, and be a value creator. When you create value to those around you, they will create value — and opportunity — for you.-30-
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