What does 'networking' mean to you?
If you instantly think of forced conversations, boring business cards and tasteless canapés, you’re not alone.
As someone who loves living in London for the anonymity, I've always been in awe of those who can seamlessly work a room without breaking a sweat. For my fellow extroverted introverts, networking can seem near-impossible.
But make no mistake about it: if you want to progress in your life/career/insert other aspiration here, having a well-connected network is necessary. However, that doesn’t mean it has to be all awkward encounters and elevator pitches.
In fact, you really can meet some of your future best friends and business partners through networking… the natural way. Here's how...
- Focus less on what you can get and more on what you can give. Take interest in every individual you meet. Ask pertinent questions. Be engaged and in the moment. Stop looking over your shoulder. Connect. Everyone you meet knows something you don't. Not only is networking easier this way, it's nicer and your interactions will feel more natural as a result. The difference can be as subtle as asking 'what projects are you working on right now?' rather than 'so, what do you do?'
- Only go to events, panels and talks that *intrigue* you. Forget the corporate things you've heard you should be attending and strive for authenticity. Take Laura Jane Williams' recent book launch, for example. I attended and it was the most natural networking environment I could have hoped for. You know those nerves you get from entering a room full of strangers? Nope, none of that. Just a group of supportive, like minded and all-round INSPIRING women ready to welcome you with open arms. It was networking at its very best, because it wasn't networking as such. We were all there because we wholeheartedly wanted to be. It made me realise that if you share something authentic, you’ll get something authentic in return. Aim for relationships that will enrich and engage you throughout your career, far beyond some petty job favour or meaningless introduction.
- Connect with one new person a week. That’s the challenge I set myself at the beginning of the year and so far, so good! Start online. If you admire someone’s work, email them. If you want to meet up for a quick coffee, slide into their Twitter DMs. And if you’re completely 'cold calling' someone you might actually want to work for one day? A LinkedIn message is always your best bet, or, if all else fails, do some light detective work to find their work email address. You'd be surprised by how many people are willing to help.
- Know your email etiquette. There's a fine line between reaching out and borderline harassment. I mean, I get it... you're keen and that's great! But as a rule of thumb, email someone no more than once (or twice - an initial email and a polite follow up after two weeks - if you're writing about a specific opportunity) and then let the universe do the rest. If you're meant to meet, you will. It may not be instantaneous, but by simply reaching out you've put yourself on their radar. Good job!
- When contacting someone new, make sure your intention is clear. This starts with a good subject line that stands out in a sea of emails ('Quick question' / 'Can we meet for coffee?' both work wonders) and ends with a clear action that allows people to know how they can help you. Are you trying to meet up for coffee or set up a Skype call? Do you need career advice? Do you want to congratulate them on their latest project? Make it easy from the offset and you're much more likely to get a response.
- Beat the awkwardness through shared experiences. A proven way to meet people is through learning something new. Places like General Assembly host a bunch of affordable (and often free!) courses where you're bound to encounter people who, like you, are proactive and looking to learn. Alternatively, browse the search function of Eventbrite to discover talks and workshops that may take your interest. Once you're settled and feeling comfortable, strike up a conversation with the person sat next to you. You never know who you might meet and that really is the exciting part.
- Utilise your friends of friends. Have you ever wondered what might happen if you applied the movie-inspired approach of doubling dating to your friendships? We all have colleagues and classmates past and present, right? So why not suggest drinks or lunch with a few of your friends and invite each of them to bring one new person. Instantly, there’s non-awkward networking right there as you all have a common bond... each other! Try it. Let me know how it goes!
- Keep in touch. The most important part of networking isn’t actually meeting people—it’s following up and staying in touch long after the connection was established. Within 48 hours of an event, send a quick email, tweet or LinkedIn request to everyone you met to let them know how nice it was to meet them. If there was someone you really connected with, go ahead and ask them out for coffee to continue the relationship further. And once or twice a year, make an effort to reach out to your whole network, to let them know you're still thinking of them. You never know when an old connection might come in handy.
Ultimately, replace your fear of the unknown with curiosity. No matter how you feel, dress up and show up to something you’re not entirely sure about. I promise you won’t regret it. And if you become friends with the people you meet in the process? Well that’s just great.