(WARNING: There is nothing really to warn you about this post. Maybe the length. Just a warning.)
You are a networker, whether you know it or not. You are also either an effective networker or an ineffective networker. If you have never thought of yourself as someone who networks, then chances are you are an ineffective networker, and may want to read on and start your journey to becoming a networking black-belt.
To establish my street cred, I will share with you two recent instances where networking has changed my life; dramatic, I know (if you don’t care about my street cred and will blindly accept anything on the internet, skip to tips about how you can become a better networker. It’s in bold—can’t miss it).
1. The Entrepreneurial Summit was held recently at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Florida (pinky out, definitely). This event, sponsored by Hispanic Unity, was an amazing experience of hundreds of entrepreneurially-minded people mingling and networking with established entrepreneurs such as the President and Founder of City Furniture and the Entrepreneur Catalyst Award Winner Dr. Susan Amat (founder of a host of ventures, but most notably @TheLaunchPad and @VentureHive).
I want to start a business incubator, and met the founder of one of the most notable incubator-like business models in South Florida. Now, as a networker, it is my job to follow-up.
2. Growing up, I babysat for my neighbors since the ripe old age of eleven. I generally associated with the mother while babysitting. The kids’ dad, however, turns out to be a big suit in a company. I was fortunate enough to secure an international internship for that company because he told me about the opportunity this summer. You really never know from where opportunity will come.
So I am going to claim nine years of networking experience. When I was a whopping eleven years old, I was an ineffective networker (mostly because I was more interested in playing my Gameboy than getting a job). Even though I am equally interested in Gameboys, I have become much more purposeful in networking.
Here are a few tips on how you, too, can become a networking ninja:
- Get a LinkedIn account. Consider this your digital CV, where you can put anything from your presentation videos, scanned thank-you notes from employers, volunteer experience, education information, and more. Make you profile “All-Star” level and you’ll be on your way! I have more fun on LinkedIn than Facebook.
- If you have a LinkedIn, update it (you know there’s something you can add since you last did). A good tip is to make sure to shorten your link address to something you can remember or write down easier. If your LinkedIn profile URL is linkedin.com/nobodyisgoing/to/rememberthisbecause/it/isway/too/long583757020, nobody is going to remember it because it is way too long. My URL is LinkedIn.com/in/taylynbrown. The same online alias as my email, blog, twitter, and more (with a name like “Taylor Brown”, I gotta literally make a name for myself somehow—check middle name “Lynne”). I’ll write about how to make an awesome LinkedIn account in the future, but for now try to walk on your own, baby giraffes.
- Get business cards. I don’t care if you are employed or unemployed, broke or rollin’ in the dough—business cards are simply a must-have. Include on them: your full name, your number, your preferred email (I have two, but I have my preferred one first, your address or your place of business’ address (I am a student, so I have the address of my University), and your shortened LinkedIn URL (if you don’t know what I am talking about, your skipped #3, shame on you). You can order 250 for twenty bucks from vistaprint.com. Keep them simple.
- Be prepared just about everywhere you go. You can surprise yourself by networking with a future colleague in class, the person who has your business solution in line at Einstein’s, your next social marketer in the parking lot, and that creepy stalker guy outside your window. That last on you should call the police on, but for everyone else you should whip out your handy-dandy business card and ask for their information (stay tuned for step 6).
- Go places. It is one thing to carry around twenty business cards and hope to run into people, but you add much more value to them by intentionally going somewhere for the purposes of networking. Go to your local Chamber of Commerce—they’re networking gold mines. Keep an eye out for events happening in your industry nearby, like trade shows (also gold).
- Always have a pen on you and always ask for their information, even if they don’t have a card. When you meet your one-true love of a future contact, always ask for a card. If your future contact hasn’t read this post and either doesn’t have a card or isn’t prepared, write down their information (with that handy-dandy pen) on either a scrap piece of paper (that you will treat like a holy scroll) or the back of another one of your business cards, or in your phone. As for the pen, I have one that is about the size of my thumb in my wristlet all the time, right next to my Chap Stick, USB drive and business cards (I’m a right MacGyver). By making sure you get their name and email and/or number, you have the power to initiate follow-through rather than waiting for them to email or call you.
- Follow-up. If it wouldn’t be super-obnoxious to triple underline, italicize, and enlarge that word, I would. Steps one through five have absolutely no meaning if you do not follow-up. Maybe you’ve lost the holy scroll or their card, remember their name and Google it to find an email. Maybe you are prepared and have all of your cards and scraps of paper with you. Then follow-up. Don’t be afraid to shoot out an email the next business day thanking the person for chatting with you about X and saying that you will be in touch about X and Y. The trickiest part about follow-up is to have something for them to do at the end of an email, like a call to action in a marketing ploy. If you are interested in an internship with their company, ask about setting up an informational interview (please and thank you). If you want their advice about something in the future, ask a conversation-sparking question first (even if it is simply through email.
- Wait. Good things come to those who wait and all. Don’t be a thorn in their side. If they haven’t gotten back to you in over two weeks, send another email or so gently reminding them who you are and where/how you met and what you would love for them to be able to help you with. Keep in mind it is also a good idea to add value to them before asking for something. Maybe you saw an article you think they might enjoy that pertains to both of your industries? Open with it and follow-up x2.
After the first few steps, there are very few quantified, always-will-work method of getting the most out of your networking, but you have to be intentional about networking. People who sit and hope opportunities will come to them are also the people you’ll beat by moving.
Have your own networking tricks? Comment ‘em!
Food for thought.