We talk a lot about networking. Networking means meeting people and building relationships that support a give and take of information. Many people have no idea how to do this. I say, “Have a lot of coffee”. That makes sense to me but still a lot of people can’t figure out how to network.
I ran into a great article on the subject the other day. Dorie Clark points out “Three mistakes to avoid when networking”.
Of course networking is more than just getting coffee. I would like to build on Ms. Clark’s networking tips.
Exchange business cards: I always carry business cards. I put them in every pocket, every purse, and every brief case. I hand them out whenever I can to everyone I meet. In return, I would like to receive your business card. However many people do not carry them. I spoke at an MBA Colloquium with 65 people in attendance and picked up only two or three cards. I talked to almost everyone at the meeting but only a few people had cards. How do they expect to meet people?
Every meeting is an opportunity to meet someone new and pick up a card.
Follow up: No one needs a business card collection that sits in the drawer. The business card is only as good as the follow up. Immediately after receiving a business card send a thank you note, a LinkedIn invitation to connect and check out the Twitter and Google+ pages to connect if you think the content is interesting. Don’t just send the standard LinkedIn invitation. Send a personalized note pointing out something interesting about his/her background or make a comment about the circumstances around your meeting. After the person responds suggest meeting for coffee or keep up the email correspondence with a question or comment about the other person. This is how you build a relationship and make yourself memorable.
Notice I did not say, “ask if they know about any open positions”. That is because it is an inappropriate question. The answer will almost certainly be “no” so why ask? Instead seek to build relationships with people that you can talk to.
Ms. Clark calls that “failing to specifically state your value proposition”. The people you connect with are busy folks. You need to show how you can help the other person not how they can help you. Do your research. Find ways you can help make that person’s life easier or at least make the offer. This will increase your chances that they will remember you and be inclined to help.
Ms. Clark made an interesting point about “misunderstanding the pecking order”. If I am in an elevator with Warren Buffett (a personal hero of mine) I must understand that he meets thousands of people. He has no idea who I am and why he should be interested in me. I have to recognize the power dynamics of the situation and make myself memorable. Point out something about Mr. Buffett that gives him a good reason to remember me or even stop and talk. It is unlikely he will connect with me on LinkedIn but it is always worth a try. But if I try to connect with someone powerful like Warren Buffett I need to create a value proposition that makes it worth his while to talk to me.