Meeting people face to face is one of the best ways to extend your network of professional relationships, and to find career and business opportunities. This is true even in this online era, and you will find online and offline networking complement each other powerfully.
There are lots of places where you can meet professional contacts. Try formal networking groups, informal events which combine socialising with opportunities to meet new people, conferences in areas of professional interest, training courses and seminars.
If you are new to networking, it can be a bit daunting at first, to put it mildly. When I was first asked to attend events and conferences on behalf of my organisation, I didn’t find it particularly easy. To help, I would set myself targets such as having two conversations with people I hadn’t met before, or making sure that I found and spoke to at least one person whom I’d identified in advance as being a good contact. Then once I’d achieved my target I would tend to head for the door, usually quite exhilarated and glad I’d done it, but also somewhat relieved that it was over.
Fast forward 15 years or so, and I feel quite differently about going to networking events. I get excited about the idea of meeting new people, look forward to the connections, insights and opportunities that might come up, and am happy to go up to people and initiate a conversation. In fact I enjoy it so much that I now lead a networking group. So what changed? Essentially a combination of practice, of reflection afterwards, and of coming up with strategies to make the process easier, more enjoyable and also more effective in terms of following up.
Because meeting people is just the starting point, and the way you stay in touch and build connections and relationships is what will develop your network into something of real value. If you join a network with the attitude of “how can I help other people”, you will find it far more effective than if you only focus on what you want. So it’s good idea to get into the networking habit, even if you are not actively looking for a new job or career. It will allow you to approach the whole thing in a more relaxed way, gain confidence and connections, and then when you do need some help, you will have plenty of people to ask.
Here are five of my top networking tips for small businesses and career changes. I hope you enjoy this short video, and would love to hear your networking tips in the comments box below.