Different people network differently for different reasons and under different situations. Tough to say, but important to remember. Here are a few ideas to ponder as you make decisions about where, how, why, and with whom you network. You might network because you want or need:
1. To get out of the office. Let’s face it. Even the best job and the most intriguing work can be drudgery at times. Sometimes you need to enjoy a refreshing break and a change of scenery along with some good conversation and the enlightenment and inspiration that comes from hearing a good speaker. Enough said. Sometimes serendipity will bless you here and you’ll meet your next most amazing contact or customer. Or at the very least you can go back to the office, reoxygenated and with a fresh perspective and a few new business cards.
2. To meet new people. I am blessed with a lot of great friends, colleagues, and contacts (a.k.a. “my people.) But if I can add a few more good, smart, interesting, people to the mix, I’m game. I’m not interested in growing a massive network, just a massively awesome one. The trick here is to find places, situations, and events where you will meet the kinds of people you truly want to meet (a.k.a. “your people”). So, who do you want to meet? And why?
3. To reconnect with people you already know. Like you, I’m really busy. So I like to go to events and places where I know I will run into my people, professionally or socially. Last week I went out with friends to listen to some music and was pleasantly surprised to run into another good friend who apparently frequents the place several times a week. Now I have reason to go there more often. It’s a place where I have a good chance of having a good time and running into a good friend. Same goes for networking events. Certain ones draw a certain crowd. Which ones draw the crowd that you know, like, and enjoy?
4. To learn. No matter what business you’re in, it pays to invest in your professional development. In many instances it’s the program and speaker that drive my decision as to whether or not to give up several hours of my day to attend an event. Leaders never stop learning.
5. To build relationships and stay current on news and trends in your industry. As my friend and fellow networking expert Thom Singer said recently, “If I was a locksmith, I’d join the locksmiths’ association. If I were an architect I’d join that association. It’s just a good idea to join the association for your industry.” I couldn’t agree more. (As a result, I’m a member of several associations of my industry peers.) Granted, your membership in your industry’s association may not be the magic bullet in your networking. But it’s a good idea to make it a part of your networking formula. Being with your peers in the spirit of learning, sharing best practices, and exercising support and goodwill can bring you many benefits.
6. To be visible. This one can seem passive, but it is definitely legitimate. Case in point: many years ago I was focusing on just one or two clients and I was also staying very busy with my duties as a mom. I was rarely out networking. One evening I decided to attend a birthday celebration for a colleague. While there I ran into many people I hadn’t seen in awhile. It was clear by their remarks that they thought I had retired or left town. I just wasn’t out there enough to be visible. Visibility is important. People won’t remember how fabulous you are if they never see you. (Just don’t get too caught up in being visible everywhere because that sends a whole ‘nother message.)
7. To find new prospects, customers, and clients. This is what you believe you may be doing when you network. But are you really? Here, it’s necessary to get really strategic and to separate your need for socializing and being “out and about” from your need to make a living. I spoke with a client recently who had a eureka moment about her networking. Most of it was driven by purely social motives and professional development. Not bad reasons. But when she gained some clarity on who she really needed to meet she discovered that the networking she needed to do to bring in customers was very different from what she had been doing. In fact, she saw how most networking events didn’t work for her. She had to get more targeted, leverage her current customer base, and identify some trusted referral sources. Could she still attend events for reasons 1 through 6? Of course. And in fact with greater focus, I’m guessing she will increase her odds of finding customers there. The key: she woke up and got very intentional about what she wanted and who she needed to meet and build relationships with.
What about you? What are your reasons for networking? Are you out there to socialize? Learn? Be among peers? Be visible?
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