By Luz Plaza, contributor for Underground Group
⏰ 4-minute read
Growing your professional network doesn’t have to be a drag. Consider these systems, apps and tools that bring authenticity and fun into building business contacts.
Non-technical aspects of successful networking include realizing you won’t click with everyone and that you may not need to meet more people in the first place.
Rather than an overwhelming nuisance, apps can be your friend when seeking and keeping in touch with professional contacts.
If growing your professional network isn’t already on your list of items to tackle in 2019, it should be. It’s commonly understood that a robust “black book” of contacts symbolizes opportunity for a company. And research suggests it’s true. A recent study published in the Journal of Corporate Finance found that the greater the diversity (in demographics and skill sets) of a CEO’s personal network, the more “growth opportunities” a firm encountered.
When we think about networking, standard “networking events” often come to mind. If you are an extrovert, chances are these events are up your alley. But if you’re an introvert, not so much.
The good news is that many modes of networking have nothing to do with attending a cocktail reception. In fact, networking guru Keith Ferrazi writes that he’s never been to a “so-called 'networking event’" in his career. It figures: A Harvard Business School study found that networking tends to make people feel “dirty,” especially when they’re not in positions of power.
Networking takes a different tone if you stop considering it as a ladder-climbing exercise and instead focus on building relationships. Here are seven steps to build relationships that work better than--dare we say it?!--traditional networking.
1. Stop trying to click with everyone.
In networking, there’s often pressure to develop instant chemistry with a new acquaintance. Remember, however, that you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s a good thing. Think of it as a filter: If you present yourself authentically, then you’ll filter out personalities that aren’t suited to work alongside yours.
Instead of trying to force chemistry during conversation, aim to find common ground and get to know a new contact beyond their job. Learn what they stand for, and make sure they know the same about you. Explaining your point of view can quicken the forging of relationships with like-minded people.
2. Asses if you really need to meet more people in the first place.
Networking is not all about numbers. If you don’t have an authentic relationship with a professional contact, then that connection likely becomes irrelevant when it comes to making introductions or doing favors for you. So before making plans to meet new folks, go through your list of existing contacts and evaluate with whom you’d like to build stronger relationships. Start there.
3. Make a plan, then make plans.
If you want to enjoy a strong professional network, you must dedicate time to building it. Set aside blocks on a monthly or quarterly basis for activities including planning meetups, following up afterward, going to lunches, hosting dinners or having coffee dates.
Apps like Calendly and Appointly allow you to display your availability and send a link to your contacts so they can choose meeting times that work best for them. They can help to eliminate the email and text back-and-forth that often comes with booking meetups.
4. Think outside of the box.
Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of apps, sites and communities dedicated to broadening your circle of professional contacts. The trick is finding and using the ones that work best for you. Consider one of these:
This is like the Tinder of networking. It’s an easy-to-use digital directory of professionals which you can sort by location, industry, interests and even intention. Professionals’ profiles must display why they’re using the app (i.e. to find a mentor or look for an expert) and if they prefer to connect in-person or over the phone.
This community of multicultural media professionals gathers in online seminars and a dedicated Slack channel to share job opportunities and resources.
This community of expats around the world can offer advice on networking globally. (Often, social practices like business card exchange and handshake etiquette differ across nations.) Chat with Internations members to brush up before your next international business trip, or find folks to meet up with once on the ground.
- Ladies Get Paid
This cluster of Slack channels allows female professionals to connect with women all over the country. Once signed up, users have access to channels including those focused on salary negotiation, jobs and general advice.
5. Give before your receive.
Networking isn’t transactional. The most helpful professional contacts are those with whom you build relationships. And like all relationships, those between professional contacts aren’t a perfect balance of give and take. You may do all the “giving” in your relationships with some contacts, while others may give you a job offer, and recommend a new hire, and send you informative articles and so on, without you ever giving anything in return.
In networking, “It’s better to give before you receive,” Ferrazzi writes. “And never keep score. If your interactions are ruled by generosity, your rewards will follow suit.”
You can “give” to your professional contacts by listening to them, sharing information with them, acting as a sounding board or making an introduction. We tend to assume, wrongly, that our peers know the same things that we do. Remember that simply passing along information that you’ve read, heard or learned from experience could help someone else.
6. Thank your contacts.
Send thank-you notes, both emails and actual cards. They send more than just a message of appreciation; they also say, “I acknowledge that you and your time are important, and if you connect me to someone else, I’ll also send a thank-you note to that person.” Do this after a contact gives you advice, makes an introduction or hosts you in a meeting.
7. Stay in touch.
For many execs and founders, email is the easiest way to keep in touch with professional contacts. Organization tools can help in this part of the process, too. Tools like Insightly and Contactually allow you to keep track of your communication history with contacts, link contacts to each other so you remember who introduced whom and add tags to each contact before sending personalized emails to everyone in one fell swoop.
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