By: Jenna Fitzgerald, Market Analysis Intern
Within the business world, we are all pressured to network. Networking itself has almost turned into a game… constantly comparing the number of people we know, the amount of LinkedIn connections we have, and how many retweets we can rack up on Twitter. What if I told you networking isn’t all about the numbers, but rather the genuine connections that can be made? It’s simple: quality over quantity.
Welcome to Networking 2.0! Below you will find four main objectives when looking to expand your network in a meaningful and lasting way. Let’s take networking to the next level and really secure some quality connections for your venture’s expansion.
- CHOOSE to put yourself out there
Within the start-up industry, it’s vital to actively expose yourself to new people, groups, and experiences. Learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable will give you the extra edge when it comes to setting yourself apart. By being open to new experiences, you allow yourself the opportunity to truly E X P A N D your network.
An August 2009 survey conducted by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., a Chicago-based employment agency, asked their HR executives to rate the effectiveness of several job-searching methods on a scale of 1 to 5 – 1 being the least effective and 5 being the most. Of the HR executives, 48% gave networking the highest effectiveness rating meaning that they value face time with candidates, giving them a chance to let their personalities shine rather than just relying on a cover letter and resume.
It’s crucial to be intentional regarding the people and organizations you involve yourself with. Be sure that you are investing your time in resources that will ultimately help you and your business venture. What does investing your energy into these things even look like? A few ideas include attending local business start-up events, joining a co-working space, and even organizing your own version of a meet-up if you want to take matters into your own hands! Keep in mind that it is extremely beneficial to research guest lists in advance so you can have a better idea of who will be attending and even single out individuals you would like to connect with. Having a list of talking points can never hurt!
- Make meaningful connections
Now that you have committed yourself to being comfortable with the uncomfortable, your next goal while networking is making genuine connections and not just collecting business cards.
Research has shown that humans determine the level of trustworthiness in as little as a tenth of a second when seeing someone for the first time. That being said, first impressions are crucial. When connecting with other entrepreneurs and business professionals, don’t be afraid to keep things light, however, by retaining a formal presence, you will still come across as dependable, put-together, and all around professional.
One thing that everyone likes talking about is simple – themselves! Your goal? The happy medium – orient the conversation in a way that is balanced. Share things about yourself and your venture but, most importantly, give them the chance to reciprocate. It is crucial to remember to stop and listen. Research shows that when people are asked to talk about themselves, regions within the brain associated with pleasure, motivation, and reward become active. The power of self-disclosure resides within all of the positive effects it can hold, ranging from enhanced self-awareness to simply having someone else show genuine interest in their life.
Just like normal relationships, business relationships are a two-way street. Once you have established this mutual respect and balance, it will become far easier to open up and truly connect. Feel free to bounce business ideas off of one another, share your contacts, and let them know that you genuinely care. Even if this specific contact cannot help you directly, they might know someone who can.
- Engage with your network
Now that the “hard” part is over, it’s important to stay engaged with your business connections. Reach out to them via email and any social media platforms of your choice – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, BranchOut, PartnerUp, Meetup, and AngelList to name a few. Though LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are fairly common, below you can find a description of the four other platforms that are definitely worth your time.
- BranchOut is arguably the most popular application for professional networking while integrating Facebook’s platform. Much like LinkedIn, BranchOut can be utilized for job searching and recruiting, however, these opportunities are achieved exclusively through Facebook friends. Yup, that means no semi-awkward business requests need to be sent!
- PartnerUp is now partnered up with Google+ Communities and focuses heavily on the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. While using this application, you will find tons of articles written by small business owners themselves, great advice, and plenty of valuable connections.
- Meetup’s motto is “Find Your People” – what more could one ask of a networking site? Meetup provides you with access to tons of local events and even the opportunity to post details to your own event. Great for organizing, planning, and attending diverse events, utilizing this platform is very beneficial for business professionals, especially entrepreneurs.
- AngelList is a platform that is highly useful for startups. Currently, 21,363 of the world’s startups are active on AngelList and are looking to hire! It’s a private sensitive and honest application that connects you directly with the startup’s founders – that’s right, no middlemen!
Go further than just remaining connected. Wish them happy birthday, send them articles you think they might find interesting, or even invite them to various events. Make it a point to catch up with them every once and awhile. Ask them how things are going and, in return, they will be invested in you as well. Little gestures can go a long way in ensuring connections that can last many years! You never know when a connection you made five years ago can come in handy. The result? Genuine human connections, not just an accumulation of followers.
- PAY IT FORWARD
If you meet someone who could benefit from one of your professional network connections, don’t be afraid to refer them to each other. In the process of expanding your network, you can help others maximize their opportunities as well. You spent your time working on building meaningful connections and it’s time for those to pay off.
Now go out and test your networking skills! We all have the potential to be exceptional relationship builders, it comes down to whether or not we choose to tap into that focus. Call up an old classmate, send an email to your favorite professor, connect with your friends on LinkedIn, or organize a meet-up with some co-workers. Do something. Start now and don’t stop.