When is a good time to start networking? If you answered, “when you need something,” please keep reading. It’s time for a fresh perspective on networking…and this is coming from a guy who didn’t believe in it five years ago.
Networking is part of my everyday life, both in and outside the office. Making new connections and forging relationships has nothing to do with searching for a new job – although it has helped me find my way to satisfying, rewarding roles in the past. You don’t have to have something to sell, either. But again, when you do, you will appreciate your network!
I have never turned down an introduction. Whenever possible, I connect people and help them expand their Circle of Influence (COI). The effort has come back to me a hundred-fold. And, as a habitual networker, I seek to help others learn this crucial skill and reap the rewards. So permit me to share my process.
Step 1: Do your research
Take stock of who you know and where they are now. Who have you crossed paths with in your life who could be that first step toward a broader network? Avoid the assumption that you can only “network up.” In other words, don’t limit yourself only to people at higher levels of management or greater experience than you. Individuals from all walks of life have something to offer. LinkedIn is a powerful tool for identification – go through all your prior stops and you’ll be shocked at who is where.
For example – My mother-in-law was the Executive Admin for a large company in Cincinnati for many years. At one point, the company relocated 500 jobs from Cincinnati to Michigan. My mother-in-law, an empathetic conversationalist and kind individual, used to work at Procter & Gamble, and in other words, she knew a lot of people in Cincinnati. Within her company, 12 people reached out to her to find out who she could connect them with. Seven of them got jobs this way!
Step 2: Define your universe
Once you know who you know, figure out who you should know. The ideal approach is to seek professionals who serve the same audience as you but who do not compete with you. So, let’s say you’re a finance consultant who serves small businesses. You might network with IT management companies or legal firms who provide services to the same clientele.
It is worth noting that, when someone comes to me, I’m typically not the person who helps them directly. However, they know I can likely connect them with the person or people they want to meet. And you know what? Both parties remember who connected them. This, in turn, leads to even more connections. I get about ten calls a week from someone who says, “I reached out to my circle and they gave me your name.”
Step 3: Start connecting
Those people you identified in Step 1 above? Give them a call, shoot them an email, and ask them to meet for lunch or coffee. To meet new people, get out there. Inherent in this undertaking, but perhaps worth mentioning is, an openness to meeting new people. You could attend events specifically designed for networking or use conferences and meetings you already attend as a starting point. If the thought of approaching strangers wearing name tags puts you off, get involved in causes you care about. Volunteer with nonprofits or serve on their boards. Our work with charitable organizations like Give Back Cincinnati and the Dragonfly Foundation has afforded us valuable opportunities. My personal involvement on boards or committees for organizations like ACG Cincinnati and IASA has allowed me to establish relationships and credibility with prospective clients without the awkward cold call.
We’re lucky that Cincinnatians are thoughtful and willing to help. Ours is a city full of open-minded people willing to help one another. So, you can feel confident that many people will welcome the chance to meet you.
Step 4: Offer value to others
We’ve all seen those sharks swimming around the sign-in table or even the bar at networking events. They can’t wait to tell anyone they can all about their latest business pursuit. This is why you shouldn’t save networking for when you’re in transition or selling something. If you’re only out for yourself, people can smell it on you.
Instead, think about what you can offer people. It might be your own knowledge or insight, or simply an introduction to someone else, as I described above. Offer access to your own COI, which will expand the more you do this. Rather than meeting someone and wondering how they can help you, think “how can we help each other?”
You might even doubt what you have to offer, but let’s try a simple exercise. Write down what you are an expert in, then write down what experts you have in your COI. Be generous with both definitions. When you add those things together, that equals the breadth of influence, connection and VALUE you have to offer those who you meet. Remember, value is often hidden in a simple introduction to another and stepping away to allow two people create opportunity for themselves. It’s pretty satisfying to see these things germinate!
Step 5: Set a goal and pace yourself
As with anything, you will achieve more when you measure results. Setting realistic goals can also help to motivate you. Networking is not the default setting for many people. You may need to step outside your comfort zone a bit. If you’re just starting out, you might plan one face-to-face meeting per month. On the other hand, if you’re actively looking for a new job, you might make it 3-5 people per week.
The key to networking is to consider it an ongoing process. When you cycle through the steps above, rinse and repeat. You can never know too many people. I committed to it long ago, and I can promise you it feeds me both personally and professionally. So now is the perfect time to get started. Let me know how we can help!
Joe is a lifelong Cincy native and former public accountant, and that experience allows him to excel in addressing finance, tech and compliance issues that companies face with custom consulting and/or resource solutions. Other roles he plays are dad, brother, son, Cincy sports fan, bourbon enthusiast, and traveler.