Despite advances in online communications and social media, networking and personal relationships are still essential to professional success.
In fact, recent surveys show that as many as 85% of all jobs are filled through networking. Furthermore, networking is a key way for businesses and startups to find and retain new clients and boost sales.
Unlike other business strategies, however, networking can be hard to measure. Short of maintaining a detailed spreadsheet of all your personal encounters, it’s hard to track whether your networking efforts are yielding results.
Luckily, we have some strategies to help you out. Here are 5 networking ideas to make your next networking event a success.
Start By Reconnecting
For some folks, networking is one of the hardest aspects of their professional lives. Perhaps you’re a master at what you do, but you just don’t excel in the social skills required to build a professional network.
But just because networking doesn’t come naturally to you doesn’t mean you can’t succeed at it. Instead, it just means that you should view networking like any other skill you are trying to develop. You will need to practice it and work on getting better at it over time.
A good way to put your networking skills to work is to start by reconnecting with folks you already know. After all, maintaining and cultivating relationships is just as important as forming new ones.
So, at your next corporate event, think about who will be there that you haven’t spoken to for a while. Take some steps to rekindle these dormant relationships. Since you already know the person, it won’t be as intimidating, but you will still be practicing skills you’ll need to make new relationships.
Identify Your Superconnectors
Have you ever heard that most people wear only 20% of the clothes in their wardrobe 80% of the time? Well, networks work in a similar way.
A small subset of the people you know will connect you with the majority of your opportunities. These people are your “superconnectors.” You can figure out who your superconnectors are by thinking about who helped you find your most recent job, and who you’ve made other connections through.
Identifying who these folks are and paying special attention to these relationships is essential. You should also think back to where you met these superconnectors. This will give you insight into what networking opportunities are worth investing in.
For instance, let’s say you met two superconnectors at ASSE’s SeminarFest. That’s probably a good indication that attending again is worth your time. This can help you choose between opportunities, rather than going crazy trying to attend everything.
Set Aside Resources
With most things in life, if you want something, you need to set aside money and plan for it.
Want to travel? Start a vacation fund. The same goes for buying a new home or new car.
But people often don’t think of networking in this way. So, instead of having funds set aside to dedicate to it, they find themselves scrambling when an opportunity presents itself. Instead, start setting aside a little money every month so that you will be able to go to these events.
This way, if you have the opportunity attend a conference, or go to a fundraiser, or even just grab some drinks, you won’t have to pull it from your regular spend money. Instead, you can tap into the funds you’ve set aside to pay for networking opportunities. Think of it as investing in yourself and in your professional future.
That said, money isn’t the only limited resource you need to expend for networking. You also need to dedicate time.
It’s no secret that most folks today are busy and overscheduled. But this is no excuse not to network. Instead, it just means you need to be more creative about how you make time for it.
One way to expand your time is by keeping up with your networks on social media. If you share interesting articles and carry on conversations, you don’t have to engage at the exact same time as others. This can allow you to work around others’ busy schedules while still staying connected.
Another classic networking tip is to never eat lunch alone. The lunch hour is a great time to reach out to friends and colleagues and talk about work in a casual way. Even if you just eat lunch with your coworkers, you are still taking time to develop the depth of your relationships.
Show Genuine Interest
One comment folks who make networking make is that networking seems “shallow” or “sleazy.” But this is only true if you make it that way.
If you don’t want your networking relationships to be shallow, then don’t have shallow conversations. Ask people genuine questions about their interests, their passions, and their goals.
Some folks might wonder how to do this without being too invasive. The key is to start with questions that are appropriate for the current level of your relationship.
For instance, you might ask a new contact, “What brought you to this line of work?” This is a professional question that still seeks to dig down and understand the other person on a more personal level.
Be a Good Connection
The way to get an maintain good connections is by being a good connection yourself. This is how you make yourself memorable to people. Look for ways you can help folks, or that you can help them find other connections they need.
For instance, if you hear a coworker talk about wanting to buy a house, offer to connect them with your realtor. Take some time to give a friend feedback on their work. These small gestures will go a long way to build your reputation.
Put These Networking Ideas to Work
While scrolling through classified ads can be one way to find career opportunities, your personal network can be a lot more powerful. Building a strong network is foundational to a successful career.
What networking ideas do you use at events? Let us know in the comments!