Networking is one of the most important activities for anyone who is looking to; find a job, build a business, or recruit new employees. But, for many, networking can feel uncomfortable, nerve-racking and for some, downright frightening. In this blog, I am going to provide you with a complete networking strategy that you can use to help you start from ground zero, and start the strategy today! This will be the first post in a three-part blog mini-series with the blogs coming out once per week.
Step 1: Begin with the Right Intention
When we hear the word networking, a lot of us have a visualization of someone “working the room” trying to collect as many business cards as possible before the end of the meeting. In my personal opinion, this is probably the worst way you can network. Instead, I like to think of networking as relationship building. It’s a way to connect with other people, learn about what they do, and identify ways to further develop relationships.
It’s also important to be mentally prepared for the “long game” of networking. This means you might not get a referral or new contact right away, but trust that as you build a relationship with someone these things often become a bi-product of the relationship.
With that being said, it is important for you to determine what your purpose is for networking. For many, this may be self-evident. Maybe you’re looking to find a new position. Others may be looking for referrals for a business. Be clear about why you are networking so you can build your strategy around it.
Step 2: Identify the Best Places to Network
Once you’ve set the right intention for your networking, the next step is to identify the best places to do your networking. Not all networking opportunities are created equal, you often will need to identify places that fit the type of people you want to meet. This is why identifying the purpose for your networking is so important. For example, let’s say that you are looking to get a job as a graphic designer. Instead of spending your time attending the local rotary club, your time would better be served to attend a local chapter of The Professional Association for Design.
Here are a few different types of organizations that you can take a look into when identifying your strategy:
- Professional Organizations: Professional organizations often are formed around a particular type of work or industry. Some popular examples are; AMA, or the American Marketing Association, and SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management. These are great networking opportunities for you if you are looking to land a job in that profession. Start by searching the internet for professional organizations related to that industry and search for local chapters. You would be surprised to find there are a lot of them out there.
- Non-Profit Organizations: Non-Profit organizations are a great way to meet new people. Individuals are often formed around a particular cause and it can be a great way to meet like-minded people. While this is a great way to meet new people, remember that for most people networking isn’t the main reason they are there, and you’ll want to make sure you take the time to really get to know people before you ask them to talk about business.
- Local Business Chapters: Local business chapters like the Chamber of Commerce or Rotaries can be a great place to meet a lot of different people locally. However, it can very broad and it might be like trying to find a needle in a haystack when looking for a specific target audience.
- Formal Networking Meetings: There are also formal networking meetings. These are places like BNI, where people go specifically to share referrals with other professionals. If you are starting a business, this might be a great place to meet new business partners.
- Informal Networking Meetings: Finally, you can also find or create your own informal networking meetings. A popular example of this is Meetup, where people get together to discuss a particular area of interest. This can be a great place to dial in on a particular topic area. For example, you may see Meet-ups focused on areas such as small businesses, project management, and meditation.
Take time to research the various networking opportunities and identify the meetings that make the most sense for your purpose. Remember, a lot of these meetings require either membership over time or may cost money to attend as a visitor, to determine how what your costs may be for participating in the group.
Step 3: Schedule a Visit
Once you’ve identified your networking opportunities, schedule time to visit them. Often, these organizations will have events listed on their website. Begin there or contact them to schedule time to meet.
That’s it for the first installment in the mini-series. Want more? Next Tuesday (9/18), we’ll talk about what to do at the networking meeting. So stay tuned.
If you have any questions or comments about this blog or have suggestions to share about how to find the best places to network, please comment below.