Over the past few years, the idea of networking has changed somewhat. With more companies and people moving to remote work, the need to network is more important than ever. You may have heard the phrase “it’s not what you know, but who you know”—and this couldn’t be more true for business. The right connections can open doors, create opportunities, and even land you your dream job.
But it’s not just a matter of advancing your career. Networking is part of the fabric of our society and has been for centuries. The most successful people in the world have focused on building connections with others. With that in mind, we wanted to cover some best practices, and then we’ll give you some templates that you can use to create your own networking plan.
One of the most important things to remember is that networking doesn’t have to be a one-and-done activity. It can be something you do every day, with a few minutes here and there spent connecting with people in your industry or community. It’s also important to remember that it takes time before you see results from your efforts—so don’t get discouraged if things don’t happen overnight!
Networking is a great way to get to know people, find new opportunities and learn about events that can help your career. It allows you to expand your network of contacts and share resources with others.
That sharing part is at the core of everything that networking can do. There should be a potential advantage for both parties in any sort of networking. Whether it’s monetary, social capital, or knowledge gained is a matter of personal preference.
Networking allows you to build relationships with like-minded professionals who are interested in the same things as you are. These people could be a source of information on hot new technologies or even opportunities for employment. They might also provide insight into certain events or trends in the industry so that you can prepare yourself.
One of my favorite ways to network is through conferences and events. I’ve often found out about job openings before anyone else does—which gives an advantage over other applicants trying to land those coveted positions. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you’ll also know where all the best parties are happening during those conferences (and won’t have any regrets about missing them).
Who Do You Network With?
The first thing that you need to decide is what purpose you’re trying to achieve with your networking. Obviously, we won’t have the same purpose with every contact. But it’s critical to understand the differences between personal and professional networking so that you approach each one in the appropriate manner.
Regardless of the reason, networking is about building relationships. Think of it as a marathon and not a sprint. For example, it’s not about selling or getting a job—it’s about building your career and the people who can help you do that.
As you build your own networks, think about what you can do to help benefit them. Remember: networking is a two-way street. You need to be open to helping others and being asked for help. It’s not only a great way to build trust, and gain more connections, being a connector is also wonderful for your own reputation.
When Should You Network?
People often think of networking as something that happens in a bubble. If it isn’t at a convention, trade show, or on LinkedIn, then it’s not networking, right? That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Networking should be a part of your daily, weekly, and monthly routine. The best time to network is when you’re in the mood for it. The more often you do it, the better you will be at it.
Conversely, if there are times that work better for you than others (say after lunch), then wait until those times before networking again! Keep in mind that there are also many other ways to network besides face-to-face meetings. Social media platforms can offer great opportunities for connecting with people outside of your personal circle (and they’re easy to use). You can also reach out via email or text message if that feels more comfortable than calling someone on the phone.
To make the most of your time, consider using a knowledge activation tool like TextExpander to make your networking faster. You can set up Snippets for your own introduction, partial sentences like “we met at…”, and of course you can have a variety of closes saved as well. Be careful to not make your networking a wholesale activity–you should always customize your messages. But there’s nothing wrong with saving some time for the repeated tasks.
Where Should You Network?
The simple answer here is “everywhere!” But that leaves out a lot of context. If you’re starting out, it makes sense to focus on the places where you have the most connections. You might also want to look at where your friends already network, or consider going with them to see if it feels right for you. If so, great! If not… no worries!
Look for networking events. These are the most obvious and easiest way to meet people. Many organizations have regular meetings and happy hours where you can meet others who share your interests, work in similar industries or locations, or have similar goals. If you aren’t sure where these kinds of events occur in your area, do some research online for “networking” in your region and see what comes up. It might surprise you at how many different groups exist!
You can also find out about local networking opportunities by contacting local chambers of commerce, community centers (like YMCAs), colleges or universities that offer continuing education programs on topics related to your career field. Many universities provide free classes through their continuing education departments. Of course, there are also membership organizations that host regular gatherings for members from all over the world. Besides hosting networking activities themselves, these organizations often partner with others who host events as well.
Best Practices for Networking
Networking is a skill that will serve you well in your personal life and your career, so it’s worth putting the time and effort into developing it. It can be challenging to figure out where to start when you have had little experience with networking, but the basics are straightforward:
Be a Good Listener
You’re not going to get very far if you don’t listen well. People will be more likely to engage with you if they feel like they have been heard and understood by someone who is genuinely interested in them as people rather than as potential clients or employers.
Prepare Some Stories
Stories about your work—and how it relates to other people’s work—can be interesting and relevant. This can help create opportunities for deeper conversations between professionals who share interests in common, which makes networking easier.
There won’t always be an obvious place for introductions in casual conversation (e.g., “Oh hey! So what do *you* do?”). If everyone knows what each other does professionally right off the bat then connecting becomes less awkward. Once that happens the conversation becomes more relaxed because there aren’t any false starts caused by uncertainty over what type of information might be worth sharing.
On a personal level, it’s hard to beat the anecdote. You should have a few prepared. But be careful that they aren’t “one-upping” the other stories that are being shared. The anecdote is a great way to break the ice. It’s also a good way to make a point about what makes you unique and valuable. Look for something lighthearted, pertinent, and fast!
This is an important distinction. The most important thing to keep in mind when networking is that it’s not so much about making connections as it is about building relationships. The main goal of networking should be to create a network of contacts who can help you—and help each other.
The best way to do that is by finding common ground. If you can find some small thing that you have in common with a potential contact, it makes it easier for them to accept you and remember who you are. This can be as simple as having attended the same school or worked at the same company—even if only for a short time.
If you don’t have anything available, then ask. It’s okay to say, “Hey! We both went to [insert school], can we chat?” or “I see that you worked at [insert job] a few years before I did; any advice for someone who’s starting out?” This is an easy way to start a conversation with a friendly tone, versus being stuffy and overly professional.
Give Before Asking
In his book “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook”, Gary Vaynerchuk talks about what it takes to be heard in an increasingly-noisy world. Though his focus is on social media, the rules that he lays out are as viable for in-person, email, or text conversations.
The idea is simple: you should give three things before you ask for one. See how you can be helpful. Can you make an introduction? Could you help someone by lending your expertise? There are all sorts of ways to give before asking for anything in return.
Make a Strong Introduction
It’s amazing how many people miss this part. When it comes to networking, you only have a few seconds to make that first impression. You need to make sure that your introduction is polished and ready for when the time is right.
Much like anecdotes, you should aim to make your introduction relatable, fast, and memorable. “Here’s who I am, here’s what I do” is a great place to start. But it’s even better if you can have some crossover with the person that you’re talking to.Maybe you’re in the same industry, have some similar interests, or know the same people. Look for ways that you can cement yourself into their brain.
We promised, so now it’s time to deliver. Here are some tried-and-true templates you can use to network. These are just as viable in person as they are through text communication. Just look for the small ways that you’ll need to customize them. We’ve also published these as Snippets in a Public Group.
It should go without saying that warm introductions are best. But sometimes you don’t have that luxury. So we’re going to start off with a template for connecting with someone you don’t know:
My name is [name] and I [work as / am also interested in / some other common ground]. I found you through [platform or person] and wanted to tell you that I admire [work / experience / other quality].
I would love to [chat in person / get a few minutes of your time / connect] so I can [follow along with your work / keep in touch]. I might have [work / ideas / thoughts] that you’ll find valuable.
Thank you for your time,
If you’re lucky enough to have met the person already the tone can be a little different. You’ll need to change the details to match the meeting time and place, but the gist of the message will stay the same.
Hey there [Name],
It was great meeting you at [place] on [time / date]. I really enjoyed [our discussion / the time together / your insights, etc.]. I found this [article / blog post / comic] and I thought that you would appreciate it.
Thanks again for your time, and I look forward to keeping in touch. Of course, reach out if there is anything else that I can do to be helpful.
All the best,
If life hands you lemonade and you do have a warm introduction, now it’s your time to shine. Here’s how I have approached these follow-up messages in the past:
I’m so happy that [mutual connection] could introduce us. I have [followed / admired / kept an eye on] your work for quite some time.
[Mutual’s name] said that you also [have an interest in / are passionate about / have experience with] and I said that I would love to connect. If you have time to share, I’d like to hear more about [subject] from you.
Thank you for your time, and your reply.
We’d love to hear your networking tips. With a changing world around us, how are you keeping in touch and making new connections? Sound off in the comments.