If you only conceive networking for business as mingling among similarly dressed professionals with a pocketful of business cards and a drink in hand, think again.
Why? First, because if you’re like many women you may not have enough time to attend all the networking for business events out there. Second, because you may not enjoy them that much. Third, because they are usually not the best way to network. Networking for business shouldn’t be about collecting as many cards as possible in a stiff business setting. Instead, it should be about making truly meaningful and beneficial personal connections, something that you can do nearly anywhere.
Practice it every day at work
If you are still buying into the idea that women who work full time are still mostly responsible for their family and home, it’s very likely that you’ve decided to cut out networking for business from your life. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day. Something’s got to give. But this a bad decision for your career because people offer opportunities to people they know and trust. If you are not someone who spends time with your colleagues, bosses and potential new supervisors, they won’t know you well enough to offer you those great assignments.
So, get used to lifting your head from your work, walking to the office next door or to the cubicle on the other side of the room. Say hello, chit-chat, find out how everyone’s doing. A few times a week bring your food to the general cafeteria area and eat with a friend or two. Join the group for an after-hours a few times a month. In other words, networking for business should happen effortlessly, every day at your place of work.
You may want to read about how to strike the right tone when talking about yourself.
Networking for Business 2.0
Now, back to the idea of networking for business at large events. The truth is that professionals in your field don’t only attend industry meetings and seminars. They shop, they travel, and they take their kids to many different activities. If you keep an open mind, you will always be ready to connect with people around you regardless of where you are. Networking for business can be done anywhere, and that’s the beauty of it. Once you master the art to connect with others, you can keep it going 24/7. Consider the following places:
- Coffee shops
- Train stations
- Your child’s school
- Hair salon
- Grocery line
- House of worship
Networking for business starts with a conversation
Building contacts in an organic way is not that hard. By remaining honestly interested in the other person, you can strike natural conversations, just as you would with any potential friend. Using appropriate small talk is generally a good way to go. Here are a few tips to help you start the conversation and keep it going:
- Talk about your mutual interests (i.e. your children if you meet at a sporting event), your commute if you are waiting on the train, or the food if you meet at a food line during a wedding.
- Ask open ended questions that provide insights into the other person’s interests, likes, dislikes, etc.
- Talk about what your own interests and passions.
- Look for common professional and personal interests.
- Talk about your work and what you love about it.
- Discuss meeting for coffee or exchanging emails.
Of course, you are less likely to meet someone who works in your field when you are simply striking up conversations with strangers than if you meet them at an event specifically designed to carry out networking for business. But, the people you meet out in the world can add significant value to your personal and professional life.
Meeting a make up artist, for instance, could help you strengthen your personal appearance, someone who works in the banking sector could put you in touch with a small business loan officer, etc. Besides, hearing what others outside of your sector do, how they solve problems, how they gain market share, and so on, allows you to bring fresh ideas to your own workplace.
Asking for feedback is a great way to improve upon your networking for business skills.
As with any other kind of relationship building, networking for business is all about creating a mutually rewarding relationship. So before you ever think about how your new connection might benefit you, think of how you could be of help to your new acquaintance. What could you offer this new contact that is unique and helpful? Do you know information they could use? Do you have a specific connections you could introduce them to? Could you volunteer for a particular cause they support? Offering to help before anyone offers to help you will send a clear message about your generosity and your commitment to this new relationship. If you keep this principle at the heart of all your networking for business you will always come out ahead.
Nothing Happens if You Don’t Follow Up
One key habit of good networking for business is to follow up. Send whatever it is you promised to send, or do whatever you promised you would do. This is one of the areas where lots of people fall flat, lose credibility and see doors close. True, not everyone you meet will evolve into a real relationship. Very often people seem interested at the time you meet them and then they won’t reply to your follow up calls or emails. Remain perceptive so that you can drop them if theres’ no mutual interest. But let it not be you the one who fails to follow up when you promised to do so.
A powerful network is without a doubt one of the most valuable assets you can develop if you want to take your career to the next level. Start practicing networking for business as an ongoing activity rather than one you only do when you are at annual conference, and you’ll see your network grow exponentially. And your opportunities along with it!
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