Stop making rookie networking mistakes and get smarter about growing your network. Learn how to reach out to people you don’t even know and convince them to help you.
If you’re like most people, you make at least one of the following mistakes in your networking efforts:
- You have no strategy or goal underlying your networking efforts
- You’re unfocused in who you network with and just end up talking to random people
- You come off as needy or inauthentic
- You value quantity of connections over quality
- You meet a lot of good contacts, but then fail to maintain the relationship
Instead, follow this system to build a strong network of people who want you to succeed. Read on for a winning strategy to find the right contacts, then successfully bring them into your network so they will help you.
Define your networking mission statement
Start with a plan. First off, get clear on why you want to network and who should you network with.
If you want a job, narrow your focus even more. What job title do you want, and what kind of company do you want to work for? If you want clients, get specific. Who’s your market and who would know them?
Once you’ve honed in on what you want to get out of building your network, it’s time to get to work.
Tap into your alumni network
Skip the networking events unless they’re industry-specific. Instead, use LinkedIn to find alumni from your school who are also in the specific group you’ve decided to network with.
Look for 30-50 contacts initially, expecting 20-40 percent to actually meet with you. For practice and to get your pitch down, start with the people you’re least interested in. Send each person a short message complimenting them on their career success. Ask if you can grab coffee with them and pick their brain for 20 minutes.
If they suggest a phone meeting instead, that’s fine — agree and follow the rest of steps below. Also, dress up for the phone call.
Conduct an informational interview
Research the person and their company extensively beforehand. When you meet them for coffee (which you will pay for, obviously), warmly introduce yourself, then ask a question or two. Just let them talk.
Aside from the introduction and the last few minutes, the other person should be doing most of the talking. You should be listening. Learn as much as you can about the other person while showing genuine interest. Get one or two pieces of actionable advice from them.
At most, you should interject a couple of times to show you’re actively listening and have done your research. Towards the end of the interview, you can talk about yourself for a few minutes just to show how you can be valuable to them.
That’s it. Don’t ask anything more of them yet. At the end of the meeting, thank them and say goodbye.
Follow up the next day
The next day, shoot the person a quick email thanking them for their time. Mention a couple of high points in the conversation you found especially interesting.
Finally, mention the advice they gave you and declare your intent to actually follow that advice. Most people don’t do this, so you’ll immediately set yourself apart.
Give value 1-2 weeks later
A week or two after meeting your new contact, send them another quick email. But this time, instead of asking them for something or thanking them, offer them something.
Your offer can be a variety of tangible or intangible things: Access to something that isn’t open to the public, an intro to someone you think they might want to meet, or even just a link to an article they might find helpful.
Show that you’re a person who follows up — and that you’re also someone who gives (and doesn’t just take.)
Close the loop 2-4 weeks after your initial meeting
Meanwhile, you should be following whatever advice your contact gave you, whether it’s to talk to a certain person, take a specific business action or educate yourself on a particular subject.
A couple weeks after that discussion, you should have followed through and gotten some kind of result. Send your new friend a note letting them know you followed their advice and share with them what you got out of it. Once again, thank them for their help.
Why is this step so important? Nobody does this, and your action sets you miles above other people your in your contact’s network.
Keep in touch by periodically giving value
If you’ve followed all the right steps, your contact is now willing to help you if you need an introduction or recommendation. You’ve built trust with them, and they’ll likely hear you out if you have a business idea to pitch.
Continue to stay in touch by giving value, inviting them out, or just sending a short personal note to stay on their radar every month or two.
John Fawkes is a career coach, blogger, and veteran marketing and business development professional. He helps his students find their dream jobs, and blogs about job hunting, productivity, and building joyful careers at johnfawkes.com.