3.2. Networking: Relationships That Work for You
You probably use Facebook or Snapchat frequently to keep in touch with your friends. If you want to know who took a particular course with a particular professor, you can ask your friends on Facebook. If none of your friends took the course, one of their friends may have taken it and could give you some insight about the course and the professor. Whether you realize it or not, you are networking.
Networking is the art of building alliances or mutually beneficial relationships (Levison, 2007). In fact, networking is all about relationships and exchange. In the example above, while you are looking for feedback on a class from someone you know, someone else may be considering seeing a movie and wants to know if you have seen it and if you thought it was good. This is a value exchange. Although networking is not exactly quid pro quo (something for something), it does include the element of exchange: if someone is looking for something, someone else can provide the information. What makes the network function is the fact that people in the network at some point have a need and at some point may be able to help someone else with their need. Said another way, networking is based on mutual generosity (Levinson, 2007). Networking is an important part of the business world and an even more vital part of sales. Statistics Review (2019) states that 85% of positions are filled through networking (Vukova, 2019). It is no longer a question of “if” you should network; it is a requirement to stay competitive because it is virtually impossible to do your job alone. Just as in social networking, professional networking allows you to leverage the people you know to expand your relationship to people you do not know. Building strong relationships with customers is an excellent way to build your network. Satisfied customers will refer you to other people who might become potential customers. Networking fits well with Face Time (see earlier section) where you are in front of your customer helping them solve their problems and building the relationship.
It is best to always be networking rather than networking only when you want something. It makes it easier to network and expand your relationships when you are not asking for something. It also gives you the opportunity to help someone else first, which can go a long way when you need help in the future.
How to Network
It is clear that to be successful, you want to spend time networking but the missing piece is exactly how to network?
Start with People You Know
Make a list of all the people you know, starting with your current customers, family, friends, friends, and others. Include people such as your hair stylist, car mechanic, and others. Ask them open-ended questions and look for opportunities to connect with a resource or guide and build on the relationship (Marcus, 2018).
Join and Get Involved in Professional Organizations
If you want to meet people who are in the same business or profession as you, professional organizations such as Sales & Marketing Executives International, Advertising Club of New York, Home Builder’s Association, and so on are the best places to be. Joining is good, but getting involved in one of the committees is even better. It helps demonstrate your skills and knowledge to the other people in the organization. Since most professional organizations are made up of volunteers, it is usually easy to be invited to participate on a committee (Richmond, 2008).
Attend Industry Events
Make an effort to attend industry or other professional events. Arrive early and work the room. If you come with someone, be sure to branch out to meet and mingle with other people. Set a time and a place to meet the person with whom you came so you can both maximize your networking. According to Peter Handel, the chairperson and CEO of Dale Carnegie & Associates, a smile can be your greatest asset when networking in person. He suggests always asking questions of the people you meet; it helps keep conversation going and gives you more insight into their background and how you might work together in the future but the other side of asking questions is listening; that is how you will learn.
A business card is an essential tool to bring to networking events. Given the countless digital alternatives to a physical business cared, is the business card still relevant or just waste of paper? According to Forbes Agency Council, there are still situations when a business card is relevant (2018):
- For people not on social media
- As a method to bringing people to your digital connections (your email, LinkedIn, and Twitter for instance may be on your business card)
- Business cards are still the quickest way to exchange information
- As a physical reminder of someone
- Creative cards get shared and can show brand and style
- Card quality can reflect the quality of your business
- Cards can make employees feel important
What should go on a business card? According to USA today and Alison Doyle of Careers, (2020), be sure to leave some white space without using a tiny font (do not cram too much information on the card); include links to all of your relevant digital platforms; try a tagline to capture the essence of what you do or list a few essential skills; use a simple and clean design that is part of your overall marketing; try a QR code that links to your website; if you have room, put a headshot on the card to help people remember who you are; and watch the actual size which should always fit into a wallet.
Keep in mind that there are business cards and there are networking cards.
“Networking business cards, which have the look and feel of a traditional business card, give you the opportunity to provide critical career and contact information to people you meet in social and professional situations where it is not appropriate to hand out resumes. For a minimal investment, you can print networking cards and then revise them as your situation changes. For example, the networking business card you use for a summer job search will be different than one you use in your final year when you attend employer information sessions.” (Hanson, n.d., para 1).
Networking cards are like a business card but are usually used to network for a job so they you are your contact information but focus on your career or job goals versus showcasing a business that you currently work with.
Keep in Touch
Networking is about creating mutually beneficial relationships. It is best to use one of the basic practices for building relationships when networking: keeping in touch. That means dropping an e-mail to someone with whom you have networked just to find out how their big project is going, how their twins’ birthday celebration went, or even just to say hi. Go beyond the e-mail by inviting someone to lunch. It is the perfect way to build a relationship, share common ground, and learn more about the person (Rosato, 2009). Many people are gung ho about networking and meeting people, but rarely keep in touch. It almost defeats the purpose of networking if you do not keep in touch.
Online Professional Social Networking
Online professional social networking can be an equally powerful tool to build your contacts but just like networking in person, you cannot be passive and expect to expand your network. Consider a situation that Austin Hill, Internet entrepreneur and founder of the angel investment firm Brudder Ventures, encountered when his firm was trying to get access to someone in a specific department at a vendor. It was a large company, and he kept getting the runaround. But after going onto LinkedIn and getting introductions to the right people, within two days they were able to start doing business with the company (Motta, 2017).
LinkedIn is the largest social media platform for professional networking with “over 610 million users in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide” (Bishop, 2019). This is without a doubt, an essential tool for establishing a network. Keep in mind that there are other tools you can explore like Meetup, Xing, Bark, Reddit, and Twitter. Take some time to set up your online professional networks based on your career goals and interests.