How to Become a Networking Ninja

(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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Super-Top-Secret Social Media Tool

(WARNING: tacky apology-for-absence-that-assumes-you’ve-noticed-my-lack-of-posting imminent.  Also, “super secret” probably isn’t all that secret, I may just be that slow.)

A few posts ago I preached about making an online presence and making a name for your digital brand (here: https://taylynbrown.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/why-i-decided-to-blog-and-you-students-and-entreps-should-too/).

And then I posted nothing for over a week.

Sorry for the absence, but I have read a few blogs complaining about other people complaining about having nothing to write about, so I chose to suffer the creative battle off the net and figure out what I wanted to write about in my head as opposed to on your screen.

Trouble is, I had no time to think about a new topic, let alone write.  Lifetime bloggers in the peanut gallery—shut it.  I know I can find time to sit down for 30 minutes a day and churn out something, but if you’re not in the habit of it, the task can be pretty difficult. (Check this guy’s blog for how to never run out of content: http://www.hqsocialmedia.com/how-to-never-run-out-of-interesting-content/ and about how to find time for blogging: http://www.hqsocialmedia.com/how-to-find-time-for-content-creation/)

So, with my feeble newbie blogging skills, I found a whimpering subject in the corner of my mind that I will throw unceremoniously into light: Buffer.

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If you are not using Buffer, or some social media management gadget like it, and you have a million followers—hats off. Also, get an IV, because you likely have no time to eat.

If you’re like me, however, you may have trouble saving content or articles for different posts and actually logging back in to post them later.  I would come across a great article and be like “but I posted 3 minutes ago…”

Now I press the Buffer button in the browser of my screen and POOF!  A magical internet fairy posts it for me at scheduled times during the day. (It actually enters a queue in your Buffer that will be posted after the last time you pressed the Buffer button…but “internet fairies” sounds better than “a ton of lines of code”)  It can post to just about any social media account, and it has the queue for every account accessible in one app (online or otherwise). 

I’ll tell you a secret my Twitter followers don’t know: that is definitely not me posting something at 9 o’clock at night.  But, hey, I get a new following everyday now because I am consistently in the feed.  And a good amount of them may know, and maybe 90% of Twitter users are using something like that or HootSuite too, and I am just late to the game. 

I’ll choose to think I am a mastermind, however.  Much more flattering.

Food for Thought.

Women–Get Over Yourselves

[WARNING: This will piss off the illogical feminists.  Sorry.]

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I am no Beyonce, but in a white-girl-version of her female rally cry I will say: All. My. Single. Ladies.

“It’s complicated” and “In a relationship” ladies.  Red, brown, yellow, black and white.  Purple, mocha, vanilla, whatever.

Get. A. Grip.

I am fed up with women–especially in business–saying how we are treated unfairly.  No man can say this for fear of dismemberment, so I will: grow up and step up.

Those ladies who do already–continue to kick butt.  Sheryl Sandbergs of the world, go get ’em.  Everyone else, read on.

Recently in a night class of mine, I met a hiring manager. We got to talking about his experiences hiring women.  He freaked out when I said I wouldn’t demand exorbitant fees right out of college (because I won’t be worth it yet).  Assuming he thought I was low-balling myself because I am a woman, he went into a rant about how the ladies aren’t really paid less…

THEY ACCEPT LESS.

He went on to say that a “meh” candidate will demand $100k per year, and be male.  He won’t budge.  The hiring manager tries to get him to $80k with a better job title.  No sir-ee.  $100k.

A woman will sit in the interview, even possibly more qualified and ask for $90k per year.  The hiring manager says they can only do $70k but will give her the better job title and what the hell–a parking spot too.

She’ll say “well, it is a shorter walk…can you do $75k?”

She just lost at least $15k per year.

If women woke up a little more, she would have been like “oh, there is a better title and parking spot on the table?  Okay, give me $90k and the title and spot.”  Maybe not so belligerently, but you get the picture.  Not only do women typically ask lower, they accept lower.

Again–this is not all women, or even something inherent to women.  We aren’t naturally meek or weak or anything.  Also, big disclaimer,I am not referring to sexual abuse or assault.  I am referring to the maddeningly-perceived level of control sexism has on women.

Ladies, step up and go after everything.  The best way to fight the arguable amount of sexism out there is to be the best candidate and not even acknowledge gender as a factor of performance.  Be genuinely surprised when someone even mentions it–I am.

The same should go for race and age, but that is for another post.  True business people will hire someone who makes the most money for them.  If they are an idiot and do not hire you solely for one of your demographics, sue them and move on.

Demand what you are worth, not a penny less.

-Food for Thought-

The Gifted Child Complex, Syndrome, Disorder, Whatever

[WARNING: this post can seem a bit whiny.  Stick it out, though, as I am not the spoiled brat I appear to be]

Some of the most popular stories are those of the proverbial David and Goliath–the little guy against the odds despite everyone telling him that it is impossible…and then winning.  Great job, Davids out there.  Truly, you guys are the inspiration.

Here’s an insufferably spoiled thought–what about that kid that everyone says will conquer the world?  What of their story?

Hello my name is Taylor Brown and I have the Gifted Child Syndrome. (Cue “Hi Taylor”)

Are you a “gifted child” too?  I do not mean gifted necessarily in the way that you were skipped up a grade or whatever–I am actually not talking about grades at all.

I am talking about that kid that everyone looks at and says “there goes a wonder kid”.  Both of my older siblings joke–a lot–that they will one day work for me.  Voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school (which hopefully people forget about), I have a thousand nicknames, most of which have something to do with being kick ass.  My boyfriend has been known to say that “she makes me feel like I have no direction” (mostly in jest, I believe).

What did I do to achieve this?  A coherent thought here, using a big word there, and poof!  I am obviously going to take over the world.  I do not feel I have done much to earn this adoration.

Earned or not, the symptoms of this syndrome can be devastating. Side effects include but are not limited to: a paralyzing fear of failure, unrealistically high expectations of oneself, ambition that can keep you up nights, and spontaneous combustion.

Okay that last one was just homage to those thousands of commercials with ridiculous warnings.

Jokes aside, I have to tell those afflicted with GCS to ignore the “She’s the Chosen One” and “Every child will know his name” predictions (unless you have a lightning mark on your forehead, then you obviously have some crap to overcome).  These downright ominous promises can be almost as bad as nobody believing in you.

The pressure can be unbearable, and at the end of the day you have to believe that God is  truly the Wonder Kid.

GASP! A business person with religious views. Cray cray, I know.

Even if you aren’t all that religious, you have to find a way to take that pressure off of you.  Unfortunately, in the world of mediocrity that we live in where everyone gets participation trophies, anything above average gets exalted.

The best prescription is a good prayer, and a heavy dosage of the following thoughts (with a meal, if you prefer): “You’re human, close your eyes, and sleep.”

I am off to take my daily dose.

-Food for thought-

Why I decided to blog, and you students and entreps should too:

[WARNING: many personal anecdotes–wade through my story or flee at your own risk]

Historically I have been a close-mouthed person when it comes to me (except for with my family, poor people).  Why the hell am I on a blog, then?

I’ll admit, it was largely peer pressure.

Recently I went to a Principled Business Leadership Institute as part of the co-ed business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi.  As part of the programming, I went to a social media workshop unlike any I have ever attended and that gave me way more valuable information than I thought I was going to get.  I was expecting the usual “watch what you post on Facebook because employers look there blah blah blah,” but the presenter asked the following:

1.) Do you have professional social media sights other than LinkedIn? (I answered mentally “no”)

2.) Do you know what happens when someone Googles your name? (With a name as common as Taylor Brown, I again answered “no”)

She went on to say how, when someone Googles your name, there are about ten links that come up–be in charge of those ten things.

Fellow college students–we are in charge of how we are seen in the information age.  We should intentionally manage our personal brands

Fellow entrepreneurs and small business owners–social media marketing and brand positioning happens more on social media now than ever before; it affords businesses the priceless opportunity to interact with current and potential customers.

My question to you few readers who have gotten this far: do YOU have a professional Twitter? A professional blog?

This is why I joined the blogging community–to take charge of my internet identity and content.

How are you?

In the future you can expect posts about the few areas of expertise I do have based on my experience gleaned over my ever-so-long 19 years of life.

-Food for thought-