Do you have a strategy for networking?
If your networking efforts haven’t produced the results you’re after, it might be time to assess your expectations and your approach. Random networking produces random results. Imagine what networking with the right people in the right way can do for you. Figuring out what “right” means requires thought and preparation. Approaching networking with a strategy for getting what you need and allowing yourself time for preparation will ensure you get better results from your efforts. Having a strategy behind your actions will also help you stay focused when opportunities seem unclear.
Get more specific.
Start with a goal in mind. Without a goal or focus, it’s very likely you’ll miss relevant, pertinent or valuable information when communicating with people in your network. Your goal will help you determine what you need to learn or gain from others. (If you think you have nothing to learn, then there’s a problem brewing before you begin.) If you only vaguely or generally know there are things you need to learn, then it’s important to take the time to get more specific. Make a list of what you really need and why.
Set realistic expectations.
Review your needs and set realistic expectations. Based on what you need, who is most likely to be able to help? How will you meet/communicate with those people? Are you working with assumptions or are you clear about which people are realistically going to be able to help you with what you need? How soon do you need information or actions? Don’t lose sight of the fact that some people in your network will be able to introduce you to others who can help you. It just may take longer to reach the right person.
Prepare questions to help steer the conversation.
Prepare what you’ll say. Attending events with lots of people won’t automatically produce your imagined outcome. You may think if you just attend enough events, you’ll miraculously run into someone who will immediately hear your value (through a spontaneous conversation) and offer you a job or refer droves of customers to you. That’s assuming, of course, that the people you run into are mind readers or care enough about you vs. what is already foremost on their minds. Your strategy needs to take into account who you would be most likely to run into at any given event. You also need to consider what might be of interest to the people at that event. Once you’ve considered your audience, then you can prepare a short introduction for yourself (not a 5-minute dissertation) and questions to help steer the conversation in the right direction.
Be prepared to follow up. People often make lots of promises in their excitement about making new connections. They may sincerely want to help, but their own issues may move your needs to the back of their minds. When someone has promised to provide you with information, it’s your responsibility to follow up with them. Agree on what the action is and the date you’ll check back. Send a “thank you” email within one day that confirms what was offered. Make sure to include the check back date you discussed. Waiting weeks for someone to come through wastes time and puts you in an awkward position. Agreeing to what has been promised and also managing the process makes it easy for the person to follow through.
Manage your time well. I don’t know anyone who likes having their time wasted. Thinking ahead and determining who to ask, what you need and when you need it, is all part of creating a strategy. Plan ahead. Asking people for immediate help (outside of an emergency) because you just got around to it, isn’t likely to produce positive results. Don’t expect others to turn themselves inside out to help you. Provide enough information and time to make it easy for them to help. Make sure to allow ample time to account for miscommunications or introductions to third parties. Waiting until the last minute, (e.g.the day before an interview or a deadline for an RFP), will likely produce a few results.
In the same vein, being clear about who you want to speak to and what you want to learn will help you get more out of your investment. Make sure to take into account the time constraints for in-person events. Attending an event with no prior thought or plan might be a fun experience, but it probably won’t be as productive as you need it to be.
Nurture your network.
Stay in touch. The act of connecting to people through a social or professional network is only as useful as you make it. It’s important to plan times to communicate with others and stay aware of their circumstances. Reaching out to others only when you need something is really bad form. When that’s the only time you’re heard from, your efforts can create more damage than good. Everyone is busy. And we all might feel like there isn’t enough time. But when you make the time to nurture your network, you’re much more likely to get what you need when you need it.
Building a solid and useful network requires thought, time and effort. Contrary to what many people think, networking can be more than “the luck of the draw” or “happenstance.” You have plenty of ways to control how your network grows, and what it can produce. Be willing to develop a strategy for accomplishing what you want.