Networking and talking about yourself can be a tough line to straddle, which is why many professionals hate the dreaded question, “So, what do you do?”
I remember going to a networking event where someone plopped himself in the middle of my conversation and said, “What can you do for me?” (Yes, seriously!) He then proceeded to talk about his business while I was still stuck on his brazen initial question.
His lack of “networking etiquette 101” caught me off guard, so I humored him like you would do to a person having a two-way conversation with a pigeon on a park bench. I had no intention of reaching out to him though.
Don’t get me wrong. Was he a bad guy? Probably not. However, our exchange proved that if your idea of networking is blatant self-promotion, your efforts will fall flat.
As an introvert (believe it or not), I wasn’t always comfortable connecting with people I didn’t know. I hated the thought of “selling myself” in the name of networking. But over time, the process became more natural.
What changed? Practice and perception.
My focus is more on getting to know other people and adding value to conversations, which in return creates a pathway for fruitful relationships.
If your goal is to do the same, here’s how you can successfully make connections and take the “work” out of networking.
If you’re on LinkedIn (or another social media platform), but guilty of having an unmentionable number of unopened messages or comments that you don’t respond to, this one is for you.
I get it. We’re all busy and the last thing you may want is yet another thing to add to your to-do list. But to grow your personal brand, you need to take the time to engage with the people in your network. Otherwise, how are you supposed to make connections?
This doesn’t mean that you have to spend hours at a time online every day, but don’t neglect your network. Just doing a few things can make a difference:
- Set aside time, daily or weekly, to actively go through your newsfeed and inbox.
- Send personalized connection requests to like-minded professionals letting them know why you want to connect.
- Write a thank you follow-up message when someone accepts your invitation to connect (this is a great way to start a conversation).
You never know what relationships you’ll establish just by being more visible to the right people.
While we’re on the topic of online visibility, two actions will help you make connections on social media: sharing content and adding feedback.
If you do both these things consistently with intention (e.g., daily or weekly), you’ll start to become more known within your network and people will associate your name with a particular topic. (Take a look at my article on Fast Company for an easy-to-follow 30-minute social media strategy.)
Can you become more active online if you’re not a writer? Sure, start with existing content.
Let’s say you read an interesting article, share it and add an introductory comment asking a question or offering your opinion. You can also comment on articles that others share.
Also, simply replying to a comment or thanking someone for their feedback can stir up engagement and lead to meeting new people.
As a post gains visibility, your name will show up in the newsfeeds of connections outside your network, which will expand your reach.
Whether online or in-person, once you start meeting new people you want to nurture relationships in a way that’s mutually beneficial.
It’s not enough to just connect with colleagues or potential prospects and consider it networking. There’s more to it than handing out business cards and “adding” connections.
You don’t ever want to be “that person” who only reaches out when you want a recommendation, sale, or introduction to another connection.
Be sure to make an effort to keep in contact with key people on a regular basis, even if it’s in small ways like dropping a quick email to say hello.
Also, establish some kind of rapport before asking for a favor or selling a service. Going in for the kill at the first interaction is NOT an effective strategy. In fact, it will get you nowhere fast (like my networking fail example).
Ultimately, there is a whole world of opportunities available if you invest the time to learn about what makes people tick. So, get out there and forget about networking in the technical sense of the term.
It’s not always about what others can do to help you grow your personal brand. Sometimes the best way to make new connections is to help someone else with theirs.