In the business world, we’re often advised to network. Interested in changing careers? Network! Need to attract some new clients? Network! Wish you had a knowledgeable mentor? Network! The fact is, networking is a valuable and effective tool that can enrich and advance your career…when you use it properly. The problem, according to Vickie Milazzo, is that many of us are wasting our time with a type of networking that is not working.
If you’re ready to put an end to “not”working and see the results you want, read on for ten of Milazzo’s tips:
Don’t just socialize—select. Perhaps because the strategy is so ubiquitous, many people confuse networking with simply being friendly. Any time you meet new people and make new connections, the thinking goes, you’re adding on to your social circle and thus networking. But according to Milazzo, that line of thought is stretching it a little thin. True networking isn’t “just” hanging out and being friendly—it’s meeting the right people.
Make sure your group makes sense. Understanding that the neighbors’ cocktail party isn’t an opportunity to network is Step One. Step Two is realizing that even among professionals, you must still continue to be selective. In other words, you won’t necessarily find the people you need at your typical networking social hour. You must create a personalized network of colleagues, clients, consultants, vendors, and acquaintances on whom you can depend to give you anything from information to referrals.
Get outside your comfort zone. Generally, we tend to gravitate toward people who are similar to us: people who think similarly, who find similar things fun, and who are in similar walks of life. That’s fine when it comes to your friendships, but you need to aim higher when it comes to networking. Over 60 percent of people find jobs through networking, for example, and you can bet that most of them didn’t achieve this goal because they knew someone at the bottom of the pecking order.
Know when to move on. You’ve heard of beating a dead horse…but when it comes to networking, that saying could be amended to “mining a dead prospect.” In other words, no matter how selective you were on the front end, don’t make the mistake of giving any particular individual or group all of your time if you aren’t seeing results or getting quality advice.
Instead of casting a wide net, go after individual fish. When you cast a wide net, you might garner a large number of possible contacts, but chances are you won’t be able to spend enough time building a relationship with each of them in order to make it a worthwhile networking experience. “However, when you try to hook individual fish, focusing on one or two specific contacts at a time, you can build stronger, more meaningful relationships,” says Milazzo. “You’ll get to know their wants and needs and they’ll have a better understanding of yours.”
Develop a system for keeping up with details. How often have you attended a conference or other event, met a bunch of different people, and then returned home without cultivating any of those relationships? In fact, you probably went right into planning mode for the next event on your schedule. “Instead, put the information you learn from and about people to work,” advises Milazzo.
Manage the follow up. Rubbing elbows at one or two events with a new contact does not automatically create a beneficial relationship. How you follow up with that contact is just as important as how you made your first impression. “When you do check in with a new contact, find a way to create value,” recommends Milazzo.
Don’t wait until you need something to follow up. Remember, the new relationships you’re forging aren’t all about you trying to get anything and everything you can out of your contacts. Be careful that you’re not constantly reaching out to them always asking for this or that. “Show how you can benefit the person as well,” says Milazzo. “Simply waiting until you need something to reach out to the person will make him feel like you’re taking advantage of him.”
Network outside social media. While networking through social media is an important way to make a connection, it’s not the only way to maintain it. You can’t and shouldn’t depend on millions of LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends to do the trick. “Simply having an online connection with a huge group of people is not going to drive that much action for you,” notes Milazzo.
Give as much as you get. Successful networking is a two-way street. Most of us start by asking for help and advice, but as we become more knowledgeable and successful, we gain the means to help others. Remember, success isn’t a monopoly: the more creative, intelligent, and effective people there are, the more successful your entire industry will be. Whenever possible, give younger (or at least more inexperienced) people a piece of advice or a leg up whenever you can.