“Experts” will tell you there’s a right way to network. I disagree. Just as in any other area of life, one size does not fit all. In fact, if you network in a way that doesn’t suit your personality, it won’t work.
For example, you plan to regularly meet with someone then find yourself constantly canceling or rescheduling your appointments.
Or you decide to attend business mixers and realize that you’re too self-conscious to connect with people there.
On the other hand, when you find a networking approach that truly fits with who you are, you’ll achieve your networking goals much more easily.
Furthermore, when your networking goal is aligned with your networking approach, you’ll start getting remarkable results seemingly effortlessly.
In this article, the last in a 3-part series on the power of networking, we’ll take you through a 4 step process that will show you how to use your networking style for maximum benefit.
Step One: Start with Your Personality
Take a moment to notice how you naturally interact with people. Without judgment, ask yourself:
- What kinds of conversations do you enjoy?
- Are there environments that you feel most comfortable in?
- Who do you currently keep in touch with? How do you do so?
- Are there certain kinds of people that you gravitate towards?
Answering these questions and reviewing your Live Career results will give you a sense of your preferences when it comes to networking.
You may find, for example, that you use email to stay connected with most people, but there are a few key people that you regularly talk to over the phone. Or that you enjoy throwing parties, where you can introduce new friends to old friends.
Being aware of your personality will help you to understand what networking environments and approaches are best for you.
Step Two: What’s Your Networking Objective?
Do you want to learn about an industry? Do you want a new job? Do you want business leads?
Networking can play a different role depending on how close you are in achieving these goals. Networking to learn more about an industry is very different from networking to get potential customers for your business.
The techniques may be the same, but the approach, venue and conversations can be very different
If you’re not sure about your networking goal, revisit the article in this series, Why Aren’t You Networking?for clarity on why you network. If you want to know more about informational interviewing, go to the The Art and Science of Informational Interviewing.
Step Three: Consider Various Networking Approaches
Although there are many approaches to networking, they are usually variations on the 3 main themes:
Networking through Organizations
Did you know that most professions have a professional association or two? One of the goals of these organizations is to keep people connected.
Most associations have local chapters, which typically have regular meetings as well as committees, national conferences, mixers and other events.
Based on your networking objective, you can attend specific types of events to find and meet just the kinds of people you’re looking for.
Here are some definitions to keep in mind:
Business Mixers - primarily focused on generating business leads and are typically attended by business owners, business development and sales professionals.
- Conferences – usually have a strong education component and attendees are interested in that focus area.
- Chapter Meetings – local chapters of professional associations host regular meetings for their members. Meetings typically offer a combination of educational, social and business development opportunities.
As you can see, each type of event draws certain kinds of attendees.
For example, if your networking objective is to learn more about a particular profession – let’s say, an advertising account executive. Find out whether there is a local chapter of the American Advertising Federation and attend one of their meetings. Right away, you’ll meet many ad executives with diverse areas of expertise.
It’s important to remember, however, that organized events provide a chance to meet new people.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to have an in-depth conversation with people they meet during the event itself.
That’s not the time or place to have a long conversation.
There’s too much going on and people get distracted easily. And secondly, the people you want to talk to probably want to meet new contacts themselves.
So attend organized events to make initial contact with people. Once you meet them, schedule time to talk later so you can talk in more depth.
Online networking platforms are similar in this respect.
You can reach out to a large number of people quickly and easily on online forums. However, you still need to build those relationships through meaningful follow up.
1. Scheduled Networking
This approach involves scheduling regular “appointments” to talk with people, whether it’s in-person, by phone or online. These meetings can be one-on-one or in groups.
For example, “leads groups” are small groups of business people who get together to exchange leads and referrals. “Mastermind” groups are people who get together to provide information, advice and support.
If you have a busy schedule, or like to manage your time carefully, this approach can be very useful since you can block out your calendar well in advance.
On the other hand, if your schedule is unpredictable or you travel a lot, this approach may not work very well for you.
2. The Organic Approach
You can think of this as networking “on demand.” This is the approach most of us use everyday as a natural part of life.
This kind of networking usually happens one-on-one, whether in person or online.
For instance, if you need to find an accountant or a financial advisor, you would probably turn to someone you know for a referral or advice on how to select one.
Here’s an example of how this approach can be used in the professional context. Let’s say you‘re interested in starting your own catering company. Your networking objective is to find out exactly what this entails.
So when your friend starts raving about her wedding caterer, immediately, you seize the opportunity and ask to be introduced to her.
There are a few obvious advantages to this approach:
- It’s timely – you reach out for help when you need it.
- It’s focused – you know what you want and that’s what you ask for.
- It’s natural – since this is probably what you do in your personal life everyday, using a similar approach for professional reasons is not a big leap.
If you’re someone who likes to do things spontaneously, you’ll probably be drawn to this approach quite naturally.
A word about online networking
Since online networking has gained such popularity recently, let’s review it separately.
As mentioned earlier, I consider online networking to be a part of the “Networking through Organizations” category. That’s because each platform has a particular focus, be it business, social, and so on. So its members are obviously interested in a particular focus area.
Just like in-person organizations, online networking platforms provide ways for their members to connect. Instead of chapter meetings and business mixers, they offer special web seminars, interest forums, online discussion groups, and various ways to join and invite others to your network.
However, you can also use these online networking platforms to network “organically.” In other words, reach out to people online when the need arises – such as, by emailing people individually, or by posting questions or comments on a discussion group.
Similarly, you can also use the “scheduled” approach in the virtual world. For example, you can schedule regular online chats with individuals or groups.
There are a couple of obvious advantages to online networking:
- You can find and establish relationships with people in any part of the world.
- You can keep in touch and stay current much more easily.
And as you’ll notice, these are both technical benefits – in other words, these only facilitate relationship building.
Step Four: Putting it all together
Based on your personal life, you’ll naturally be drawn to a particular way of networking.
If you like to do things spontaneously or prefer conversations with one or two people at a time, you’ll probably be drawn to network “organically”.
If you prefer parties, you’ll be naturally attracted to business mixers, professional association meetings and conferences.
If you have a busy schedule or if you like to plan ahead of time, you’ll tend towards the “structured” approach.
Let your personal preferences guide you. Look at what you’re doing in your personal life, and use the same approach in your professional life. It’ll make networking easy and fun for you.
Similarly, if you find that you think of “networking” as tedious or a struggle, take a look at how you’re networking and modify your approach.
- Is it different from how you typically interact with people?
- If so, in what ways is it different?
- How can you change your networking approach to be similar to your personal interactions?
In addition to your personal preferences, however, you must also consider your networking objective.
Each approach to networking has its own advantages. You might find that one approach is ideal even though it’s not your “preferred” method.
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples to see how this works.
Example 1: You’re considering a career change and having read the previous article, you’ve decided to start informational interviewing.
- Your objective is to find information, and possibly leads, for a new job.
- Looking at how you interact socially, you prefer one-on-one conversations. Also, given your busy schedule at your current job, you like to schedule “dates” with friends so you can reserve time on your calendar for these get-togethers well in advance.
- Consequently, you find the Scheduled Approach to networking very appealing.
So putting these 3 components together, you decide that the best way to proceed is to find and schedule appointments with people who can help you best.
However, you also realize that you don’t know very many people in the industry that you want to transition to.
As a result, you decide to start by attending a conference or a Chapter meeting to connect with several knowledgeable people all at once (i.e. Networking through Organizations).
And then schedule appointments with each person to have the in-depth conversations you need.
Example 2: You’re a sales professional whose job requires you to generate leads and maintain a “strong Rolodex.®”
- This means that your business objective for networking is to make contact with large numbers of people all the time, as well as cultivate relationships with key contacts.
By nature you’re outgoing and gregarious and love socializing with large groups of people.
As a result, you’re naturally drawn to attend events like business mixers, trade shows, and so on – i.e. Networking through Organizations.
When you put these 3 components together, and carefully select events to attend, you will find excellent opportunities to meet exactly the kinds of people you want to – and have fun doing so.
However, your job also requires you to build deeper relationships with key contacts. As discussed, events are not the best time and place to do so.
This means that in addition to your main approach to networking, you may also use the Organic Approach and/or the Scheduled Approach to strengthen certain relationships.
Don’t confuse the two!
Before we conclude, let me make one very important point: “networking” is not the same as “keeping in touch” with people.
You keep in touch with people for a variety of reasons. And networking may be one such reason.
For instance, you may keep in touch with a past co-worker just because you like his or her company. And one day, he or she may be able to help with a networking goal you have. (This, by the way, is a good example of the Organic Approach to networking.)
On the other hand, if your only reason to keep in touch with someone is for “networking” purposes, it can get tedious. This is why the Structured Approach to networking often fails.
To avoid this problem and confusion, clarify why you want to meet and make sure that both sides see the benefit of getting together.
As you can see, you already have a networking style that suits you perfectly: it’s the one you use everyday in your personal life.
Keep in mind, even though you may use one approach most of the time, don’t hesitate to use a different networking strategy when the need arises. As mentioned, there are advantages to using each of these options.
So, be aware of you personal preferences and clarify why you want to network before you start. Then choose the networking approach that fits. Going through these steps will help you get the best results from your networking efforts, every time.