I’ve always been a natural extrovert in school and in business. I find it easy to socialize with others and connect with them personally and professionally. When I first embarked on my entrepreneurial journey and left the practice of law, I used to attend as many local networking events as possible. I deemed it important to get out there and connect with other business professionals to build both my brand and network for prospective clients, speaking engagements, and other business opportunities.
My then boyfriend (now husband) coined me as the “networking ninja” because of my ability to consistently walk into a room, make new contacts and effortless build new relationships without it feeling unnatural.
I realize that networking is not easy or simple for everyone. There are some who fear being in large crowds of people they do not know at networking events and being forced to strike up a conversation with someone they have little synergy with. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you can build solid networking skills through these 4 simple steps:
I am sure you have heard many say, “You need to put yourself out there if you want to meet the right person.” Networking is a lot like dating. In order to find a date, you need to put yourself out there in the limelight, and practice makes perfect.
First, find out where the local networking events are in your community. A great place to start is your local chamber of commerce and other leadership organizations that are industry-specific. Many groups will offer the first event free to all guests. Some events may be as high as $35 or $40 for a lunch and some may be more nominal for happy hours. Either way, if you meet your next business contact or potential boss, suddenly that fee becomes pennies and the reward outweighs the risk. The best part: if you go to a networking event every night of the week, you may never have to cook dinner again! But don’t forget to dress professional to the networking event. Treat it like a series of mini interviews.
Every person you meet is an opportunity. A key step to networking is having your own professional image and brand. Don’t make the mistake of showing up to a networking event without a stack of professional business cards (tip: I like to order mine from Moo).
Make sure the business card has your name, professional title (i.e. Operations Manager) or industry (i.e. real estate), cell phone number, email (keep it professional), and LinkedIn URL. Before you put your LinkedIn URL on your new personal business card, ensure that you have a customized URL (I explain how to easily customize your LinkedIn URL here).
When you go to networking events, take a business card from each person you meet and give them your business card. Easy and done, right? Not so fast.
Following-up is the most important part of networking. Always follow-up with each person you meet. Get on their contact list. Tell them you hope to see them at the next event (which may open the door to them inviting you to an event you didn’t know about!). Invite them to have lunch or coffee the next week. Being consistent and committed is key.
If you are going to attend networking events and build connections on LinkedIn with attendees from the events (which of course I highly recommend), make sure your LinkedIn profile is fully optimized with a powerful headline, compelling summary, and details of your experience. It’s important that the image you put out at the networking events matches your digital footprint — i.e. your personal brand aligns. You never know where this connection may lead.
Develop a rapport with other professionals and connect on a greater level through LinkedIn. Share and comment on each other’s content. Engage with one another beyond just being a connection. Join groups they are members of and possibly connect with their connections.
It’s easy to say no to future networking events if the first few don’t pan out the way you like. Remember, persistence is key. Keep attending the events. As they say in dating, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.” The same goes for a job search and networking. It may take several different types of industry events for you to decide which one is the best one for you to attend or to even see something pan out from it.
These are simple steps that you can undertake with small to increasing effort to build your professional network. Keep in mind that with networking having over a 70% chance of getting you a new job, it’s imperative that you don’t sit with a stagnant LinkedIn profile or stand in the corner at a networking event. Get out there, mingle, build relationships, and formulate connections for greater visibility.