HOW TO NETWORK BEYOND SMALL TALK
There’s a reason we included Networking Events in our recent post on 8 Corporate Events You Need. Like it or not, networking is essential when it comes to business. Put simply, it is the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts. Ultimately, it is relational in nature. Discovering opportunities to work together, finding the next genius recruit, or sharing helpful industry insights all stem from those relational connections. We know, we know… our introverted friends are cringing at the idea of making small talk, whilst our extroverts are stuffing their suit jackets with business cards aplenty. Never fear. Regardless of your personality type, we’ve put together a list of tips to have you networking like a pro beyond the small talk.
Network in your own workplace
Once upon a time, employees climbed the corporate ladder within their own workplace until retirement rolled around. These days, younger generations tend to fix their gaze externally for their next career move. Whilst there’s something to be said for gaining varied employment experience, an external focus can often lead to missed internal opportunities. Your own workplace is the ideal place to start networking. Whether it’s water-cooler chit-chat with colleagues, seeking out a mentor, or building rapport with the boss, developing these connections will help you grow professionally and place you in good stead for future.
Reconnect with old ties
If you’re wanting to build your professional network, start with the low-hanging fruit. What do we mean by that? Pick the easy-to-accomplish ‘tasks’ first. These may be contacts that you have lost touch with, or those that have lay dormant for a few years. At some point you had a relationship with them, which is a good foundation to build on. Reach out and enquire about their family, follow their latest business venture, or reminisce over a shared memory. Let us emphasise that this needs to be done genuinely. People can smell someone wanting something from a mile away. Take time to re-establish the relationship and build on the connection first.
Meet new people through existing contacts
Networking is all about who you know. Friends of friends – or contacts of contacts – are simply one connection away. Developing strong bonds with your existing circle opens the door to their sphere of influence. If you’re confident in your relationship, consider asking for an introduction or a referral. Based on their positive experience with you, your contact will likely be happy to assist. Remember, networking is a two-way street, so be prepared to connect your own contacts, offer to make an introduction, or refer someone. A good networker brings something to the table, making for a mutually beneficial relationship.
Get alongside lone rangers
Ever walked into a crowded room of strangers and suddenly felt the urge to escape? You’re not alone. In fact, the number one fear of attending a business or networking event is not having anyone to talk to. Research has shown that people tend to clump together in small groups. This makes it very easy to spot the lone ranger. Whilst it may seem daunting to go and introduce yourself, chances are, they’re feeling the same way. If you’re unsure how to break the ice, simply ask a question related to the event: it may be about the schedule, a particular speaker, or where the closest drinks are. This is a less intimidating way to start a conversation, than “so… what do you do?”.
Update your online presence
It’s crucial to ensure your online profiles are up-to-date and accurate, as this is often the first port of call for contacts and recruiters alike. We’re talking about key platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Make a decision which ones are for public viewing and which ones you want to keep for personal use – then be sure to set the privacy accordingly. Select a profile photo that is friendly, uncluttered, and recognisable as you. Outline your professional experience in a clear and concise way, and utilise the available sections to communicate your key messages and showcase your skills.
You’re going to find it hard to engage with industry if you’re out of the loop. Perhaps you’ve changed career direction, had some time off, or are resistant to the changing nature of work. If you’re looking to get ahead in your field, you need to be up to speed. Start by following relevant industry professionals and thought leaders. Keep abreast of current trends, the latest research, and controversial topics. Read widely from blog posts to industry articles, interviews to research papers. Don’t be afraid to ask intelligent questions, engage in forums, and comment on posts. Active interest goes a long way in getting noticed.
Leverage social media effectively
Social media is an incredibly powerful tool. When used appropriately for networking, it is an effective way to build your network, interact with others, and position yourself well. After meeting someone in person or online, connect with them on socials. Select the most suitable channel/s and send a personalised message. It’s helpful to recap the location or context of your meeting, and something to indicate the next step (e.g., Hi Beau, it was great to meet you at the QLD Wedding Expo. I’d love to catch up to hear more about your venue offering). Engage with their content regularly, and don’t forget to check back in if you haven’t heard from them within a reasonable timeframe.
Convert your pitch to relatable language
We’ve all heard how crucial it is to get your elevator pitch down pat. You know, the 30 seconds you have to summarise the solution you provide to a problem. But does your target market understand it? The goal is to explain your offering in a way that someone can then regurgitate it. Using overly-complicated jargon or flowery-yet-vague language won’t translate to the average person. Adjust your pitch to meet their level and personalise it to who they are. This means you may have several versions of your elevator pitch, each one relatable to a different target consumer.
Speak their business love language
Just as different people feel love through different expressions, so too, different contacts feel connected in different ways. You may be the loud joke-cracking type; however this may make quiet Suzy in the corner deeply uncomfortable. Perhaps you prefer long one-on-one business lunches, but busy Pete isn’t hearing a word as he keeps checking his watch. A sign of a mature networker is the ability to read the other person and speak their business love language. Is a coffee too much for their hectic schedule? Maybe connecting via email is better. Do they rarely check their LinkedIn messages? Pick up the phone and see if they want to chat instead. Where possible, meet their networking preferences.
Follow up without adding pressure
The key to a good follow up is making life easier for your contact. If they’ve expressed a problem, come back to them with a potential solution. This may be something you can offer, a relevant referral, or simply a helpful article. If they’ve expressed a desire to catch up in person, take care of the details. Propose a convenient time and place for them, and come prepared. Your mission is to remove potential barriers and create meaningful interactions that will add value to their life, without adding pressure. As always, remember your manners and thank them for their time.
NETWORK FOR THE LONG-GAME
Long-term networking success comes from sowing seeds carefully, tending to them over time, and harvesting the crop as it arrives. You may start out with techniques that are comfortable for your personality, however as you grow professionally, you’ll become more confident in meeting people where they’re at and being part of the value delivery chain.
Factory51 provides a flexible space to support networking. From hosting a networking event in our Workshop function venue, to discussing business over a coffee, lunch, or drinks in our Italian restaurant. Contact us today to receive a quote or make a reservation.