Though some shudder at the notion of “networking,” when it comes down to it, networking is simply connecting with others in hopes of building mutually beneficial, enduring relationships. It’s more than starting and carrying on conversations; networking is really about creating community and deepening one’s sense of belonging.
Creating a plan and approaching networking strategically can help you meet your professional development goals. To become a better networker and to network in a meaningful way, consider these tips from business relationship coach, Alana Muller:
Prioritize perspective. While giving your own company your focus is important, it’s also important to expand your network outside the four walls of your job. Sometimes professionals fail to lift their heads up and to look around and see opportunities to connect with people outside their organization.
Have the right attitude. Decide that you are a great networker and have fun engaging in the effort! Though the idea of networking can be daunting, the rewards you reap from the experience will pay dividends for years to come. By going in with an optimistic disposition, ready to help and add value for others, you will build a solid professional network.
Define yourself. Create a personal mission statement to give yourself direction when connecting with other professionals. By articulating what your values and goals are, you can approach networking opportunities with a clear view of what you want to get out of the relationship.
Create and stick to a process. Determine an approach that will work for you — and commit to it. Consider planning your days around three key meetings — one in the morning, one at midday and one in the afternoon, that is, “Coffee Lunch Coffee.” This approach works for some; others have a different take. Find the process that makes the most sense for you based on your goals, lifestyle and aspirations.
Prepare ahead of time. Think about people you already know with whom you’d like to reconnect, people you know of in the community with whom you’d like to connect for the first time and companies you’d like to get to know better. Then, gather information on each. Thanks to LinkedIn profiles, company websites and social media, you can find plenty of information with minimal time and effort. By doing your research, you can capitalize on the time spent with your contacts and make your meetings more productive for both parties.
Know your own story. It may seem obvious, but go into networking scenarios armed with an arsenal of your own key stories — those that describe who you are, what you do, what you believe in and how you operate. Think ahead about the information you want to share and how you wish to be perceived. This, too, will help to engage your contacts in meaningful, fruitful discussions.
Be patient. A true networker goes in ready to add value without expectation of the specific benefits the encounter will bring. Focus on long-term relationship building by fostering meaningful connections over a period of time. Don’t be afraid to begin to start building a relationship, knowing that it may take years to engage in a transactional relationship. Approach networking interactions with a relationship-first mindset and hope that the business will come later.