How to Efficiently Build Your Professional Network
May 1, 2019
By Jason Eisenberg Community Program Manager for Office Depot
The old adage, “it’s not what you know, but who you know” has been thrown around since the early 1900's, and it still holds true to this day. The one caveat I would add is that it’s also “who knows you”. While social media has made networking much easier in terms of who you can reach, it’s made the art of face-to-face networking more valuable. It’s kind of similar to online dating. With the technology today, you can see and match with an unlimited number of people but most of these interactions are as simple as a swipe to the right. What insight are you really getting from an interaction so on-the-surface? It’s the same for professional networking – people can easily add you to their LinkedIn network, but without a solid connection that must go deeper than a basic email or swipe to the right, you’re playing a game of vanity with numbers, not constructively building your network.
Our latest #Workonomy chat was with business networking experts and hosts, Michael and Matthew Espinoza, founders of SABusinessCalendar.com (and AustinBusinessCalendar.com). Our 20-minute conversation covers topics including why you should be networking at least once per week, how it will help you in the future, learning how to pick the right events, common mistakes to be aware of and the right way to follow up. But if you don’t have 20 minutes, we’ll briefly summarize below.
Why You Should Be Networking Starting Now
“If networking is something that’s embedded into your strategy and you do it on a consistent basis, you’ll have more opportunity and can create it for others.” – Matthew Espinoza
Networking needs to be part of your strategy. Many people think about networking like it’s an afterthought – either they just realized they want a new job or they need to make one more sale before the quarter ends. This is incredibly ineffective because now your motives are skewed. Instead of coming to an event to learn and meet new people, you’re there to make a sale or to impress the CEO of a shiny new startup you’d like to work for.
Your motive when attending these events is simple – build your professional network for the long term. The earlier you start and the more value you can share with your colleagues, the more opportunities for success can approach you. We all know one or two people that are incredibly connected and seem to know everyone, and it’s not by mistake. These folks put in the time and energy to become a valuable asset to anyone in their network because they can make introductions and essentially grow a community.
Don’t Be That Person at an Event
The business card shark – There is always someone at a networking event that leaves their business cards everywhere or hands them out indiscriminately without a conversation to follow. This is the personification of spam email. Do you want to know where those business cards end up? Look at the floor when the event is over.
Don’t be someone you’renot – Being someone you’re not at an event is the fastest way to get frustrated and networking is a game of patience. The only way you’ll continue to network is if you see results and you’re enjoying yourself. So be yourself! There is a high likelihood that there are other professionals around that have similar personality traits like you – give your authentic self a chance to make real connections.
Don’t talk too much! – Whether it’s because you have an A-Type personality and love to hear your voice or you ramble when you get nervous, this is a big mistake to make. As mentioned earlier, you’re there to learn and meet people. How are you going to do that if you’re the only one talking?
“If you’re just talking and talking and suddenly realize you don’t know anything about this person you’re talking to… Slam on the brakes and even apologize saying, ‘I’m sorry. I’ve been talking too much. Tell me about YOU’.” – Michael Espinoza
How to Approach Networking as an Introvert/Extrovert
Are you a wallflower like myself or do you love to talk to everyone, all the time? Your goal when networking is to find a balance between the two and you can do that by approaching it with the mindset of wanting to know about people and wanting to learn.
Be inquisitive and you’ll never get bored.
“If you take the attitude of, ‘I’m going to go to this event and meet some great people and I’m going to ask questions and learn’, it never gets old.” - Michael Espinoza
The No. 1 Problem We Face When Networking is the Follow-up
Let’s first clearly define what following up is not. It’s not a sales pitch. If you’re following up with a transaction in mind, it’s more than likely you won’t get a genuine response or maybe a response at all. Think about it – why would they if you just sent them some canned template as a follow up? A simple ‘how are you doing?’ could garner better results.
“I’m not trying to sell something in my follow up. I really want a long-term business relationship where it’s mutually beneficial and they need to know that” – Michael Espinoza
In order to build that relationship, you need to provide some value. It can be as simple as sharing an article on a subject you discussed at the event or asking if they would like an introduction to someone in your network.
Michael suggests that everyone should practice empathetic networking. What would you think if someone handed you a business card and then walked away? How would you feel receiving a template email the following day after having what you thought was a genuine conversation. Imagine how it would feel to be at a networking event and the person you’re speaking with hasn’t even asked your name or what you do.
Be inquisitive. Be empathetic. And follow up.
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About the Author Jason Eisenberg is the Community Program Manager for Office Depot, specializing in small business and entrepreneurship. Based out of one of the most exciting cities for startups – Austin, TX – Jason is plugged into the business community, often connecting with thought leaders, entrepreneurs and strategists to help identify and find solutions to common pain points all business owners share.
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All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot, Inc. warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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