Networking is the most powerful (and necessary) skills you can have. You have to be able to network. There is no way around it. It is not a matter of if, but when you will be approached by someone, or want to approach someone for information, an opportunity, or genuine curiosity. In fact, networking is so important nowadays, that 85% of jobs are filled just from networking alone.
There are two main types of networking to be familiar with, intentional and non-intentional networking. With intentional networking, things start with you. You go to conferences, other businesses, or lunches with the intention of meeting people in your field or in a field you are interested in entering. Non-intentional happens when you meet people while you are out and about doing things in your life. In both cases, being able to recognize and capitalize on the opportunity in front of you can make a big difference in your life.
To be able to network involves mastering the art of small talk, being knowledgeable about the field you are interested in (as well as several fields you are not interested in), and genuinely interested in what other people have to say. It also requires a certain amount of patience and imagination.
How to be prepared in any networking situation
Keep an open mind.
Sometimes you meet someone who is not in your field, but they are working on a process that could be adapted to your product or service. If you are patient and able to keep an open mind, in general you can find something useful to take away from every conversation. One of the beauties of the human mind/society is the free sharing of ideas between each other. Often times the greatest inventions come from combining two or more very common ideas into something that no one ever thought would go together. This can happen on purpose, (like putting the internet, phone and music player on one electronic device), or by accident (like accidentally messing up an adhesive mix, which resulted in the post-it note).
It is not a matter of if, but when you will be approached by someone, or want to approach someone for information, an opportunity, or genuine curiosity.
Have the hand shake and eye contact down.
When you go out expecting to network (either intentionally or non-intentionally), it is easy to start noticing some differences in the way you act. You will no longer be surprised when someone stops you, or nervous when you see someone you would like to talk to. Instead you can mentally prepare yourself before you go out. You will have more confidence, you will have your interests at the forefront of your mind, and therefore more readily accessible. And last but not least, you are prepared to make a strong and lasting impression with a solid hand shake and good eye contact with whomever you are networking with. It will not only show them that you are interested, but that you respect them. They will in turn respect you and have a positive image of you imprinted on their mind when you part ways.
Have a business card ready at all times
Even if it is just to give your number to a friend you just met, having an eye-catching, professional business card is a sure way to make a positive, lasting impression on everyone you meet. It is a small but effective way to show others your unique personality, while showing that you take things seriously and are organized and prepared for anything. Soon your reputation will proceed you, and people will start seeking you out, either because they recognize you as a leader in the field, or as a valuable resource for them to use.
If you don’t have a strong business card, check out our post on professional business cards that will help you decide what information to include, how to make an eye-catching image or logo, and when and where to hand them out!
Don’t forget to follow up!
The last step to a strong networking connection, is to follow up with the people you just met. Even writing a simple email saying “Hey, it was great meeting you the other day. I am excited for your new product line. If you need anything please let me know!” will go a long way in leaving a positive and lasting impression of who you are.
Overall, it is important to remember that networking takes practice. Practice making eye contact and shaking your friend’s hands. Rehearse some opening lines in front of a mirror to see how you look and sound. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will get with putting yourself out there, and the more you will be rewarded with life changing opportunities, strong relationships, and a greater feeling of contentment and joy for yourself, your profession, and others.
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