Networking is an important skill to have these days. For some people, networking comes naturally. But for the rest of us, it takes work and practice to become better networkers.
Two years ago my career journey took a significant turn when I became a managing partner here at Atomic Object. Before that, I had been working as a developer, and networking wasn’t a big part of my job at all. Now, however, networking is critical to many aspects of my work including recruiting, building brand awareness, sharing leads with other local organizations, and generally contributing to the local business community in a meaningful way.
Below, are five tips that I believe can make anyone a better networker.
1. Leverage your existing network.
It’s pretty easy to find people that you’d like to connect with. All it takes is five minutes of searching on LinkedIn. But getting those people to respond to a cold connection request, much less engage in a meaningful conversation with you, is not an easy task. Most people are used to being inundated with spam on LinkedIn and, to them, your connection request is just another sales pitch for something they don’t want.
A much better approach is something that I refer to as “personal network crawling.” Start with your existing contacts. Take a look at their first-degree connections and filter them down by categories that are meaningful to you. This might be their location, job title, company, number of connections, etc. Chances are it won’t take long before you find someone you’re interested in meeting.
Next, rather than reaching out cold, ask your existing connection if they’d be willing to make an introduction for you. People are almost always willing to meet someone if a friend made the recommendation.
Once you make your new connection, the new person can then be an avenue for you to connect with other people in their network, and so on. Using this technique, you’re never reaching out to people cold, so your success rate will be very high.
2. Connect with small, closed groups.
In all the networking I’ve done, I’ve had the greatest success when working within small to medium-sized, closed groups. This could be regional networking groups, Slack communities, workplace groups like co-working communities, or start-up incubator programs. Unlike networking on LinkedIn, you can have a lot of success when making cold reach-outs within these groups. Most of the time people join these types of groups because they want to network, so they won’t be annoyed by you contacting them.
3. Do your research.
You asked for an intro and you scored a meeting with a new person. Before you meet with them, make sure you set aside 15 to 20 minutes to do some background research on them before you meet. Typically, I try to find out where they are from, the places they have worked, the roles they’ve been in, and any noteworthy groups they’ve indicated they’re interested in on LinkedIn.
The more you can learn about them before the meeting, the better your meeting will go. Think of it this way: Your time with this person is a golden opportunity to find out the information that is most meaningful to you, specifically. You don’t want to waste their time and yours asking them questions with answers you could have easily found out ahead of time. After doing your research, jot down a shortlist of questions or talking points to hit on during the meeting.
4. Know your answer to the most important question.
The key to a successful networking meeting is coming prepared. You want to go in knowing what you’re going to ask (see No. 3) and how you’re going to respond to the most commonly asked questions. These are questions like:
- What are you working on?
- What is your niche/differentiator?
- What are your biggest challenges right now?
- What have you been doing lately (with regard to whatever it is you’re working on)?
and the most important one,
- What do you need help with/How can I help you?
When someone asks you this last question, they’re essentially asking, “What are we doing here, and why did you ask me to meet with you?” You must have a good answer for this question ready to go. When asked, take the opportunity to be extremely honest and make a clear request, if you have one.
Finally, make sure to ask if there’s anything you can help them with, and make sure you mean it! Networking is all about building relationships. Approach every connection with a genuine interest in helping, and you will get more out of it.
5. Follow up.
A thoughtful follow-up is key to being a better networker. The follow-up can serve several purposes:
- Let the person know that you appreciated their time.
- Recap any key discussion points like, “Thanks so much for recommendation to join the ___ group.”
- Ask a question that you didn’t get to on the call or that you thought of afterward.
- Plant a seed for meeting again. “I’d love to meet up sometime for lunch sometime soon to continue our conversation about ___.”
In the future, if you’re ever trying to remember when you last connected with someone and what you discussed, the follow-up can serve as a handy reminder for you. If you really want to make a good impression on someone, send a hand-written note. I’ve done this many times and I almost always get a very positive response.
Be a better networker.
Those are my top five tips for being a better networker. I hope you find them helpful! I’d love to hear what tips/techniques you’ve embraced in your networking. Comment below!