Networking with professionals within and beyond your industry is an invaluable way to expand your connections and create opportunities for yourself and others. Whether you are thinking about a change in career direction, researching job prospects beyond your current employer or wishing to meet new clients, engaging in formal and informal networking events has a number of benefits. Investing time in networking provides a solid foundation for meeting new people, learning new skills and can open doors for your career and business.
But here’s the thing, life is busy and it often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to add ‘attend networking event’ or ‘catch up with old boss’ to your schedule. Today’s article is designed to inspire you with new ideas for how you might approach networking in 2020.
1. The Mindset for Networking More Effectively
My genuine interest in others and openness to meeting new people has allowed me to take advantage of many informal and formal networking situations, leading to success with networking in the most unlikely of places. When my boys were younger, my friends and I chuckle about the fact that their children’s birthday parties sometimes provided a forum for me to meet new clients! It’s this personal experience that demonstrates how my approach to networking is influenced by my attitude to meeting new people. I have a genuine curiosity in people, their stories interest me and I always learn from others when I hear a different perspective on things.
It should go without saying that networking is not about ‘hitting people up’ for a job or their business. While tapping into your existing network is often the best way to find new opportunities or generate new career ideas, your focus should be on genuinely building your relationships and finding opportunities to add value to others. Be confident that the rest will follow.
2. Informal Networking via Your Contact List
Make a contacts list that draws on:
- work colleagues
- social connections
- sporting involvements
- community groups
- school connections
3. Taking Action with Your Contact List
Consider who you’re overdue to catch up with and would value talking to. Unless you see them regularly (at work or at weekly social or sports events) it may be quicker to contact them by telephone. If they tend to be someone who prefers text or LinkedIn messaging, this is an acceptable way to contact them too. Keep the message succinct and friendly. Suggest a catch up type that is relevant to their location, schedule and preferences. For example, a coffee or perhaps a walk. Walk and talk meetings are an increasingly popular way to stay active and catch up at the same time!
Every contact you have with someone creates an impression of you and helps build your personal brand – so take the time to be truly present with each person when you catch up with them, make it positive and memorable, in your own unique way.
4. Formal Networking via Industry Groups & Professional Development Forums
Make a list of industry groups, tertiary or university associations, professional interest groups and professional development forums and upcoming conferences happening in and beyond your industry in 2020. Take the time to check the websites of these industry groups, subscribe to their email updates and view their events pages.
5. Schedule Networking into Your Calendar
Make a commitment to yourself about how regularly you will arrange an informal networking catch up (coffee or lunch catch up) and attend a formal networking event (professional development, meet ups, conferences, networking evenings).
Keep at it. Networking takes time, so don’t expect it to pay off immediately. Be satisfied that, at the very least, investing time in informal and formal networking activities will help you re-connect with people you have not seen for a while. It will also help you learn from others and expand your connections. It’s good to cast your contact net widely and often. You never know where an unexpected lead or opportunity may come from. I encourage you to stay open-minded and flexible, remaining open to new career ideas and directions you had not previously considered.
6. Take the Time to Follow Up After Networking
If you are not already connected on LinkedIn with connections you’ve met at informal and formal networking events, make sure you connect with them! Take the time to send a personalised message when you send an invitation to connect. If you discussed an interesting book, podcast or article when you met, the LinkedIn messaging feature is a great way to follow up after you meet by sending them a relevant link.