Submitted by Devin Lasker on Mon, 05/02/2016 - 5:59pm
For many recent graduates and those on the cusp of graduation, the idea of networking is a scary proposition. It doesn’t have to be. In fact, let’s toss out the word “networking” and replace it with “relationships.” Networking, at its core, is all about relationships. You’re feeling better already, aren’t you? You’re currently in relationships with your fellow students, professors, friends, co-workers, family and perhaps even the barista at Starbucks. You’re essentially networking right now without even thinking about it. Every interaction you have is an opportunity to nurture an old relationship or create a new one. Imagine your network is a tree. Your objective is to plant the seeds, and over time, watch your network grow into a Mighty Oak with hundreds of branches. Here are some tips to help you do just that:
Be selfless. If you want to become a relationship rock star, repeat these four words: “How can I help?” If you take one thing from this post, let it be that phrase. Many people view networking as a one-way street moving in the direction of “me.” “How can this person help me?” “What can they do for me?” Instead, stop, turn your car around, and start driving in the opposite direction. “How can I help this person achieve their goals?” “What can I do to help ensure that they’re successful?” If you approach it from this direction, I promise that your relationships will be taken to the next level.
Tip: An easy way to help others, and something I do quite often, is to email your connections with links to articles that relate to their business. Your message can be a simple, “Hey there. I read this and thought you might be interested. I hope all is well.” You would not believe how something so simple could leave such a powerful impression.
Be a super-connector. Do you know someone who seems to know everyone? This is the perfect example of a potential super-connecter. A super-connecter is someone with a vast network who loves helping others connect the dots. If you hear that one of your fellow students needs a graphic designer to help with their project, introduce them to your friend Steve, who happens to be a killer graphic designer. If there’s ever a time where you can make an introduction, make the introduction. Don’t think about “what’s in it for me?” Opening up your network and being selfless will pay large dividends in the long run.
K.I.T. Keep in touch. Being a relationship rock star means keeping in touch with your contacts. You never want to be the person who starts an email with, “Hi! Long time no speak! I hate to reach out because I need something, but…” As someone who has been on the receiving end of many of these emails, I’ll tell you that they’re awkward to receive. Although it’s probably not the sender’s intention, it puts you in a weird position, which is something you never want to do with someone you’re in a relationship with. You can avoid this problem by checking in with your contacts throughout the year. Pick five contacts a day and shoot them a quick email. For example, “Hi Jennifer, how’s it going at Acme? I read about the new project you launched and it looks incredibly impressive. Keep up the good work!” A simple note like that will accomplish two things. One, it will brighten their day, as everyone likes to be thought of and recognized for their accomplishments. Two, it will keep you fresh in their mind, so when you do reach out down the line for a favor, it isn’t coming out of left field.
Update Your Little Black Book. The smartphone is the new “little black book.” When someone hands you their business card, add them as a new contact in your smartphone later that day. Jot down facts about them in the “notes” section, such as where you met, their interests and perhaps their kids’ names. This way, when you send your follow-up email, you can impress them by including one or two of those facts to show that you took a genuine interest in what they were saying.
Tip: If you have a LinkedIn profile, which you certainly should, send them a LinkedIn request. LinkedIn is a fantastic way to grow your relationship base, and I’ll be writing about LinkedIn Best Practices in the future. I will mention now that LinkedIn is a professional social platform and it should be treated as such. One best practice to follow is refraining from sending someone you don’t know a LinkedIn request. Once you’ve had a meaningful interaction, such as an email exchange, phone call or in-person meeting, by all means, send the request!
Be likeable. You’re never going to have a large, active network if you’re unlikeable. People want to be in relationships with those they like, and one of the main ways to grow your network is by having your existing contacts introduce their contacts to you. Similar to how you wouldn’t set your friend up on a blind date with someone you dislike, no one is going to introduce one of their contacts to someone they dislike.
I hope this post makes you feel a bit more comfortable with the idea of networking. It’s not as scary as you might think and is incredibly important for a successful business career.
Best of luck and all good things…
Monday, May 2, 2016