Everyone is networking and if you aren’t, we highly encourage getting out from behind the desk and taking time to reach out to others to connect and develop both professionally and personally. Finding others to connect with will not only help you learn trade tools and tips but can lead to shared projects, partnerships, and other opportunities for your business and even your career.
So what does it mean to “network?” Networking is the act of connecting with others to learn and share ideas and information about a similar topic of interest. There are many ways to network such as connecting on social channels like LinkedIn or Twitter or joining local interest groups. Networking events can happen in person at the local pub or cafe, in an office setting, or even in online chatrooms. Whenever you network, you are meeting others for the first time or continuing conversation to keep a dialogue going.
Getting started with networking can be easy with technology and communication today:
- WHAT – Identify what topic interests you or what goal you want to achieve with a networking opportunity. Are you a designer seeking to expand your toolbox? Are you a product manager hoping to learn how others contend with a process challenge?
- WHO – Find a person or group that would provide the dialogue and discussion in support of the topic(s). Using LinkedIn, Dribbble, and other networking platforms, seek to find someone you admire, someone who provides a lot of thought leadership, or ask for advice on a group that exists with your topic of interest as their focus.
- HOW – Reach out, introduce yourself, and seek a chance to meet. Everyone likes coffee and tea so offer to buy someone a cup and feel energized by a brief meet-up!
So you’ve scheduled your networking meeting…someone has agreed to take time out of their busy day to meet with you and talk. Now what? Here are a few effective meeting strategies to be a good host and make networking an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.
Prepare an agenda.
While networking can most certainly be casual, an agenda lets the other person know you thought through how you would most like to use the time with them. Think about your burning questions on the topic, share a few bullets on some challenges you would like some advice on, or provide a resource you may want to review. Leave room and time for your guest to share what they would like to accomplish as well. Use a meeting tool like Docket to create a simple and effective agenda and share this a few days prior to your networking session with a personal message.
Be kind and remind.
The day before, send a quick note to let them know you are looking forward to meeting and a reminder of the time and location. Not only does this help avoid any confusion or forgetful guests, but it also encourages preparation on their end to be ready for the meet-up and is a nice gesture that to know you are looking forward to meeting with them.
When you arrive.
Be a little early and find a good place that will make for a comfortable conversation. It is also nice to send a reminder text or email to let the guest know where you are sitting and other cues on how to find you such as your coat, shirt, hair, or another unique identifier so that if they walk into a room of people, they know who they are looking for. While social profile pictures are helpful, business headshots may not look anything like your t-shirt and jeans today.
After a warm introduction, lead them into the topics you, and hopefully, they, built into the agenda and seek to understand anything else they may hope to get out of the session. Use the time to articulate the topics and glean insight from what is shared. Taking notes for words of wisdom, suggestions, contacts, and other useful information is completely appropriate.
Respect their time.
Keep track of the time but without distraction…continuously looking at a phone or watch can make it appear you are impatient to end your meeting.
Requesting to network was your idea so chances are you sought to receive advice, information, partnership, or more. Take a few minutes to ask how you might be able to help your guest from insight, advice, and services. They may not take you up on it initially but it is courteous, shows initiative, and provides both of you opportunity.
Say “Thank you.”
Take the time after to send a brief recap of the discussion to show the main takeaways and any next steps if there were any decided. Most importantly, include a sincere “thank you” for their time and sharing this experience with you. If there were any actions discussed, be sure to be proactive with regard to follow-up to show good faith and ensure this person remains connected for other opportunities in the future.
A healthy network creates support and opportunities in both your personal development and professional career. Use networking meetings to grow your contacts and nurture your relationships for a blossoming and fruitful career.