Start networking. That's advice given to someone looking for work or someone starting a business. It's often who you know that makes all the difference. Many job seekers have huge success finding work through people they know. And referrals are the #1 way that most clients find my business.
Since starting my business, I have made an effort to connect with people. It hasn't always been easy - it has been a steep learning curve for me as an introvert. But as much as it has challenged me, it has brought some wonderful new relationships into my life.
Here's what I have learned so far about networking:
Conduct Informational Interviews: I've written about informational interviews before. They are a fantastic way to have a focused career conversation with someone new. The scariest part is the ask. But people are willing to share their experiences and insights. Over the last 6 months, I have done 7 or more informational interviews. And almost every time that I meet someone new, I am inspired.
Attend Events: One of the best ways to meet new people is through events. Besides events in your personal life, attend professional events. Chances are, you might not get it right at first. I attended a few events that seemed like a waste of my time. But over time, you will start to figure out which ones are best for you. And sometimes, you just won't know unless you go! You may end up attending a few duds, but even that will hopefully give you clarity on what you like or don't like about certain events.
Is it scary to attend events? Walking into the door can sometimes take courage. My friend, Tina, recently invited me to a networking event during Small Business week. I wasn't sure what to expect. On my commute over, I had flashbacks to a few awkward student events I attended during my post-secondary education. But I walked through the door with the intention of having 5 conversations with new people. I exceeded my goal plus I truly enjoyed myself. The best tool you can bring along to networking events is your curiousity (and a whole bunch of business cards!)
Find Your Group: Part of the secret to networking is finding your people. And there are many ways to meet your people. It could be anything such as a chamber of commerce, an industry association, club, or a Meetup group
I've found a few groups that work for me. But it has taken some time to find the right groups where I feel comfortable and where I can reach my target audience.
Connect With Your Network: It can be easy to lose touch. Life gets busy. Part of networking is reconnecting with your existing network. It can be as simple as a text, email or social media message. Or maybe it's meeting up for drinks or a walk. I love catching up with someone with no expectations or intentions. Just the chance to reconnect.
Talk Naturally About Yourself: When I started my business, I prepared a dense 30-second elevator speech. However, 30-second elevator pitches do not work well for the question, "What do you do?" I eventually simplified my answer to this question by saying, "I write resumes." This works surprisingly well. People often are interested and ask follow-up questions.
Job seekers, think about your introduction. When asked what you do, don't state that you are looking for employment. Instead, share what you are or a core aspect of the type of your work. For example, you might say, "I'm a software engineer" or "I help businesses by designing user-friendly apps." The key is to start a conversation, not convince someone of something before you even know them.
Someone told me about a networking event she attended where someone was promoting her waxing services. This individual went around the room, pointing out body features on others that could use some waxing. That is a pitch gone truly wrong. Get to know someone, then share about your business!
Do What You Love: If you want to meet more people, connect to your hobbies. I love hiking and I sometimes hike with a group of moms in the Tri-Cities. It's a win-win as I get to hike plus sometimes, we talk about work, too.
Get Connected Afterward: After meeting someone, get connected so that you can continue the relationship. I add people to my LinkedIn network or through Facebook. Recently, I met a woman through a networking event. I “liked” her business page on Facebook and over the past month, her posts have been showing up in my newsfeed. Even though we are acquaintances, I have started to feel more connected to her. When I saw her again, it felt natural and easy to carry a conversation.
Look to Help: Networking is about helping others. It can be making a referral or connection. It might be sharing an article related to something someone was talking about. Or it might be posting information on LinkedIn that is helpful to your network.
Networking does not have to be a scary word. For me, it is about forming authentic relationships and helping others. And I'm grateful that opening my business has pushed me towards forming more community and connection in my life.
How will networking change your life? There is only one way to find out..
Kristin is the owner of Career Story. She loves supporting individuals with their job search and career guidance needs. Connect with her today at firstname.lastname@example.org.