When you think of a great networker, who do you think of? I used to get the image of the 30-year-old salesman with that slicked back hair superficially schmoozing with his victims. Let’s call him Rick – sorry to those named Rick out there.
Rick has given networking a bad rap. His slimy way of going about advancing his career turns a lot of people off to the process. With the right tools and structure, we can overthrow Rick and take over networking as it’s meant to be performed. So, how to network effectively?
When you boil it down, everything in life is made up of a set of behaviors. Let’s take cooking for example. To be great in the kitchen, you have to master the art of chopping, cutting, pouring, flipping, whisking, etc. Networking is no different. It is made up of a variety of actions that when combined, can lead to results.
Networking actions can be categorized into three buckets of behavior:
1. Organize & Prioritize
It is of upmost importance to stay organized as you network. If you drop the ball here, you will get nowhere. You will forget peoples’ names, where they work, when you were supposed to meet them, etc. Your contacts should be organized and you should have everything about everyone in one central location. Moreover, you should prioritize your contacts in terms of relevancy to your networking goals. Contact those most relevant first and try to achieve your goals as soon as possible. Networking to network is not good – stay focused and with a little prioritization, you can skip out on the brutal small talk.
2. Outreach & Follow-up
Once you know who to contact and why, begin reaching out. The smaller actions here are write emails, make cold calls, set meeting dates, and have phone / in person meetings. After you meet someone, always follow up. I find hand-written notes are much more personal and express a gratitude not easily found in an email. Though, email follow-ups are fine if you are strapped for time. Express your thanks, talk about what you learned and liked about the conversation, and follow up on any open items from the meeting.
3. Optimize & Practice
Thirdly, practice. Networking is not an end game. Cold-emails are hard and following-up is never easy to remember. Your time is your most precious asset – figure out your most productive days and evaluate what activities you do well and which ones you need to improve (great at reaching out, horrible at following up). Tracking these actions is key to improving and becoming a better networker.