Networking is a lifelong skill and something you will do for the remainder of your career. You have to be proactive and get out there: it is more than just trading business cards or sending a generic LinkedIn invitation.
Simply defined, networking is “the process of developing mutually gratifying /advantageous relationships with like-minded people and businesses.” It is a resource of advice, business referrals and investors, and can help advance your career. It is a mutually beneficial relationship, not a lead generation process. While you may not have the roster of connections in the beginning, sharing information like networking events or interesting blogs or websites will help build your value within the network.
Some quick tips to get started networking:
Have Business Cards: Vistaprint, Staples, Office Max, Office Depot and a host of other office supply companies offer business cards, some as inexpensive as 500 for $10.00. All offer templates to design your card (walk the line between ‘memorable’ and ‘busy’). The following information should be on your card:
— Contact information: use your personal e-mail address and your cell phone number and/or your home number. Don’t use your work e-mail or work phone number unless you are networking on behalf of your company—then use your company card.
— Link to your LinkedIn profile (you can personalize this as well on your profile)
— Don’t just collect business cards: if they invite you to call them, call them.
Prepare An Elevator Pitch: originally meant to last the length of an elevator ride, this is a quick summary that introduces you, your profession, product, service, organization, or event and its value to the person you’re talking with. It’s a great way to break the ice.
Have Your LinkedIn Profile Activated: a great trigger for follow-up, you can send out an invitation to the people you’ve met, but don’t use the generic invitation. Send an original message: “I enjoyed meeting you last night at the 20/30 Networking event and learning more about your company.” Mention something specific about your conversation and keep the invitation quick. If your new contact doesn’t have a LinkedIn account, send a quick e-mail.
Make It A Date: networking events are on listed in local business magazines and on their websites, in LinkedIn groups and Facebook, on websites for professional organizations and alumni associations. You can network at recreational events, such as your adult kickball league or a golf outing.
Listen And Ask Questions: people like to talk about themselves, so be ready to ask questions, but be sure to listen so you can ask a great question. Keep the conversation going and share a little about yourself.
Use Names: if they make the first move and introduce themselves, follow it up: “Hi Dan, nice to meet you, I’m Anna Greene, I’m a sales associate at Market Square.”
Be Your Best Self: professional, respectful, inquisitive, a great listener, polite — someone your grandmother would be proud of. Many networking events are centralized around after work cocktails, be mindful of your alcohol intake. (Check to see if your employer has a policy, too.)