Professional Networking: How to Network Effectively
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Cliche, yes. True? Absolutely when it comes to networking.
Networking can unlock opportunities, stimulate new ideas, help you get closer to your dream job, or even skyrocket your business to success.
For many of us, networking does not come naturally, especially for those who are shy or timid. So, how do you network when you don’t really like talking to people? Is networking worth it if you’re not a confident speaker? Yes … a thousand times, yes.
You just need to realize that networking’s main aim is to continue the conversation beyond the initial meeting. The real work starts after the initial introduction. Keeping in contact makes you more memorable, lets you show off your value and also makes you seem eager and confident. If you’re looking for a job or a business opportunity, you will give a far greater impression when you become a regular contact rather than just that guy at the networking event.
Networking is about taking decisive action. But it’s a difficult art to master. Especially during a pandemic. Networking can happen in person at business events or meetings, but more than likely over the next few months, networking can happen digitally by reaching out on LinkedIn or attending webinars. Your approach is basically the same either way.
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Simple steps on how to network with other professionals
Want to know the key to being a good conversationalist? Being a good listener. A mistake a lot of people make when networking is to go on and on about themselves. They become a walking resumé rather than a person having a conversation.
When in doubt, always remember this quote from the classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People: “To be interesting, be interested.”
Networking is as much about learning from other people as it is about promoting yourself. So, if you’re shy, no worries! You can approach networking with less focus on yourself and still get great results.
Be sure to listen carefully, ask follow-up questions, and pay attention to your body language as well. People can quickly tell when you’re not listening or interested just by how you present yourself; unfold those arms, face the person you’re talking to, make eye contact, smile and nod along to what they’re saying. Make them your primary focus.
2. Ask the right questions
Asking people questions about their jobs or industry is a very simple way to start making connections.
Skip the “How long have you worked at X?” Instead try, “How do you think the industry will change in five years’ time?” Another idea is to ask if they recommend any books or resources they personally use that would help you learn more about the industry.
People usually appreciate being asked for their opinion as long as you show interest and ask follow-up questions. Make sure you’re listening though! You can’t ask follow-up questions if you aren’t listening to the initial answer.
3. Focus on solving problems and becoming an asset
What’s the number one thing people get wrong at networking events? They focus on themselves. They talk about all the great things they can do, the experience they have, and why they’re amazing. While that might all be true, that’s not what people are looking for at networking events.
They’re looking for solutions, not sales pitches.
The problem with networking is that it’s full of people trying to sell something that no one asked for. A better approach is to start by looking at problems they need help with first and working back from there.
When you want to promote something, either yourself or a business idea, you must address pain points and do some problem-solving. Solving problems = adding value. So, focus on what you can give and what problems you can solve, rather than what you can get out of it.
When first approaching someone, avoid rushing up to them and talking about yourself. Don’t whack them with a sales pitch right away. Instead, provide rather than ask for something. Provide useful advice, ideas, recommend a book or podcast that helped you address a similar problem. Further down the line, you can float the idea of what you can offer them but when you do this, be specific about what problems you can solve.
4. Write it down
People who are naturally shy struggle with networking and many will avoid it altogether. For those who are nervous about networking, one of the first steps you can take is to revisit what you know.
In a room full of experts it’s easy to feel out of place or like you don’t belong. Try not to devalue your knowledge or achievements though, no matter where in your professional career you are.
Before attending networking events or reaching out to people over LinkedIn, write down what you know, what your experience is, and what value you can provide. Whenever you feel nervous, just think back to everything you wrote down. Better yet, write it all down on an index card, stick it in your pocket, and refer to it whenever you need a reminder. Give it a quick read before heading over to meet someone for an instant confidence boost.
While there will be gaps in your knowledge and experience (like everyone has), this exercise can be a helpful reminder of your own value.
5. Follow up and close the loop
The first big mistake that people make with networking is not networking at all. The second biggest mistake is not following up. Closing the loop is our term for following up after an initial introduction.
Closing the loop reminds the other person that a) you exist b) you actually listened to their advice and c) you can add value and build a solid professional relationship with them.
But how do you close the loop? Just say thanks? No, everyone does this and it pretty much ends the conversation. Instead, mention something directly related to the conversation you had. This is why listening carefully is so important!
Try something like:
“Hey [new contact], I just wanted to say thanks for speaking with me earlier. I’ll definitely [follow up on something they suggested] and will let you know how it goes.”
This goes way beyond a simple thanks, case-closed exchange. It stands out, shows you listened and want to open up the conversation further.
A couple of weeks later, follow up again. This time, use another angle and add value. For example, send over an article you’ll think they’ll be interested in. Pick something related to your initial conversation if possible. Avoid asking them to visit your website or read your book though. The key here isn’t to ask for favors. Remember, we’re still in the providing value stage.
After a couple more weeks, it’s time to close the loop. This is where you show you took action on what they suggested. If the other person recommended a website or podcast, let them know you checked it out and what you thought of it.
Say something like:
“I remembered what you said about [point they made] and I decided to check out [website they recommended]. I found [example article] really helpful and I [took action, resulting in X achievement]”.
The great thing about this closing the loop tactic is that it shows you’re willing to listen to advice and take action. This kind of email is going to help you stand out amongst all those people who let the connection fade away. Besides, who doesn’t want a nice email telling them their advice is great?
6. Be prepared (even if it’s scripted)
Speaking of scripts, don’t be afraid of them. It’s not just the college freshman out there that needs to prepare notes. CEOs and presidents often come prepared with scripts and talking points so they know exactly what to say.
Scripts don’t have to be elaborate. This isn’t a Christopher Nolan film. In fact, simpler is often better to stop your dialogue from feeling stilted or … you know, like a script. Practice them for greater confidence and impact.
The art of effective networking can be boiled down to this: Listen, ask the right questions, write down what you know, practice your script (pitch), and close the loop.
Networking virtually can be a little tougher, but for most of the world that’s our only option right now. If you need more help with networking over email, enter your information below to receive a free copy of my 5 best scripts for networking through email. Combining the principles from this post and powerful scripts will help you make connections that will take your career to the next level.