Recognizing that it’s almost impossible to get clients without knowing people, I prioritized developing a professional network—a population bank of talented individuals offering insight and opportunity. My network consisted of industry colleagues, mentors, potential clients, and a menagerie of super interesting trailblazers. Here are a few tips and tricks I learned to ensure the development of a badass network:
I’m currently involved in two businesses—a geographically-dependent agriculture operation, and a geographically-independent marketing & PR firm. I maintain professional contacts on the national level for both. While useful ag-based contacts may appear to only merit local or regional professionals, I frequently reach out to representatives of national industry associations, lobbyists on the hill, and globe-trotting specialty consultants to aide in my farm’s objectives.
Even if your business or career seems to experience geographical constraints, don’t overlook the application of national and international networks. Thanks to the world wide web, the “world” has been brought right to your front stoop. Resist the temptation to restrict your growth to local yocals, especially in today’s technologically blessed world.
All About the Follow Through
Critiquing my free throws, my high school basketball coach used to remind me, “It’s all about the follow through.” The advice that translated into many a point on the court has proven to be of great relevance in my professional pursuits. It the world of fast-speed, high tech networking, it too is, “all about the follow through”. Forget first impressions. Networking always allows for a mulligan, a do-over, a fantastically unforgettable follow-up.
Leaving a week long industry conference with 50 business cards in your complimentary tote?
Chaa-ching. Network goldmine opportunity.
After meeting a new contact, follow up with each individual via a personable note expressing your pleasure in meeting them and offering your assistance with future endeavors. If you have any upcoming projects or links that fall in line with their interests or pursuits, now’s the time to mention them. Don’t be afraid to get creative.
After running a 10k for local charity, I followed up with half a dozen other race attendees representing the Fortune 500 Company hosting the event. In this follow-up, I provided them the link to a relevant article of mine that had been published, “4 Lessons Running Taught Me About Businesses”. Keep the convo flowing; professional contacts are relationships that must be nurtured.
No "wham, bam, thank-you ma’am’s”.
Apply a Personal Touch
Between working, writing, traveling, and going off on Twitter rants, I connect with hundreds of new professionals on a monthly basis. While I routinely employ pneumonic devices and other memory tricks, my recall isn’t that great. More often than not, I forget name to face associations, much less pertinent personal information that make each individual fascinatingly unique (and potentially extremely useful).
Details are important! Arguably communication’s "Dahli Lama", Dale Carnegie, said the secret to making friends and influencing people is to talk about their favorite subject—themselves! Chat about THEM – their hobbies, their dog, their alma mater. Once you realize nobody really cares to hear about your stuff, you’re on your way to being a communications pro.
Keep a “Little Black Book”
Remember those alphabetized address books from days long ago?
Organize your contacts into useful industry, network access, and geographical location categories. I’m a big fan of Excel--#1: because, as any other MBA grad can attest, it’s a second language, and #2: because it syncs so well with mass e-mail system and other contact software-- but use whatever data analysis system that works for you. Some use private Twitter lists, others like specialized phone apps. Main objective is to categorize your contacts in a way that can be easily accessed for future use. A phone full of random numbers or an e-mail server with jumbled addresses won’t do you much good when you can’t remember who’s who.
Professional relationships are a two-way street; we build our careers with the gracious assistance of others. Before requesting a professional contact to share you latest business promo with their social followers, ask for an introduction to one of their strategic contacts, etc. consider what ways you may help the requester further their goals. Everyone has an agenda; can’t identify theirs? Ask them! It’s amazing how far a simple, “How can I help you reach your professional goals?” can go.
Make intros, be a professional reference, forward articles they may find interesting, invite them to industry events. It’s a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” world. Give what you’d like to receive. If this one’s a struggle, be sure to add “The Go-Giver” to your list of must-reads.
“It’s not what you know, but who you know,” is a business adage I’ve heard since Day One of my trep journey. For many professions, their network is key to an expanded net worth. Prioritize people and focus on relationships, regardless of your industry of choice. For some millennials, networking with members of other generations—Gen Y and Baby Boomers—can initially be challenging. Insider’s tip for crossing the generational divide: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. While Twitter may be a phenomenal place to connect with other tech savvy young pros, industry conferences may present a better opportunity to network with more experienced crowd. Meet them on their turf, and focus on building rapport. Remember, it’s all about the relationship.
About Hannah Becker:
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