Networking: it doesn’t have to be painful
We all recognise the importance of networking and interacting with colleagues, clients and potential clients, but many people are baffled by how to ‘work a room’ or dread getting stuck in a conversation you seemingly can’t get out of.
Often people see networking as useful for getting a new job or promotion, or for winning new business, if that’s your goal, but there are other good reasons to regularly mingle. It actually helps you focus on your priorities and what’s important about your role. Try explaining to someone who doesn’t know what you do what your job is all about and you’d be surprised how difficult it is! But it’s also really enlightening to realise what it is you really do, what’s important and what you’re trying to achieve – it gives you focus and clarity.
Networking also helps you build a support group of people who can potentially help you to be better at your job. Meeting like-minded people who may hold some key knowledge or skill set or have a network of their own that you can tap into.
Research shows that people who are more resilient have a larger support network and are quicker to make use of it, helping to cope with stress and move through difficult tasks quicker.
Networking also has a social element to it, and let’s face it, most of us enjoy our work more when we’re mixing with other people and building relationships with those around us. Good to know, but for some this won’t make it any more appealing. So here are my tips for making the whole thing a lot less daunting.
It’s all in the preparation. First, as with most things, it is far easier if you make a plan before you start. Exactly why are you networking? Is it to find a new job? Or is it because you need help with a particular project, you want people to know what you do and how you contribute, or maybe just to make new acquaintances around the business? Next, think about your personal brand – what do you want to be known for, what are you good at, how is that useful, and crucially what do you want to do next?
Look to help others. While you are networking, either at a large event or just a small gathering, look to find out about others with a view to understanding how you can help them. Too many people enter a networking event either trying to sell something (themselves) or benefit personally in some way. This can be a turn off for others and make you less appealing to talk to. It also puts a lot of pressure on yourself making the situation even more daunting. Look to help others first, ask about them and their work and think about what it is you do that can help them. How do your jobs overlap, what skills do you have in common, what experience do you have? Also, be patient. People typically need to know, like then trust you. It takes time. Sow the seeds and build the relationship, don’t demand a payoff immediately. People get in touch with me now who I met three or even four years ago – it’s a long game!
Follow up! Finally, make sure you follow up. There is nothing worse than meeting someone who seems genuinely interested and keen to help who then never gets in touch. It could even be considered rude to take someone’s contact details and not use them. A courtesy email the next day thanking them for their time and details, and suggesting a follow up meeting, will help deepen the relationship while giving the impression that you are dependable.
Don’t be daunted by networking, think about why you are doing it, look to help others and make sure you follow up.