Networking 101

Networking image

Guest blog post by Isaac Henry. If you don’t understand the basics behind networking, keep reading to learn the 3 steps of starting the conversation, following up, and leveraging networking in your future.

Be sure to read the other networking articles: Networking 102, Networking 103, Networking 104, and Networking in Japan: How to Find a Job as an LGBTQIA+ Person.

The most confusing part to any kind of success is where to begin. Everything starts off with how well you are known or how you get around. Building a network is essential to any profession, whether it’s running your own business or creating your dream position by finding gaps in the spaces between existing careers. 

As in many situations, who you surround yourself with will determine whether you pass or fail. This makes knowing how to network a top-priority in every profession. Networking can be seen in many different forms, some of which you may already be doing. 

What is more important to learning how to network is breaking the steps down to networking and making them habits. Turning these steps into habits will not only save you effort, but will expand your influence faster and more effectively. 

Breaking the Ice

The first step to networking involves something we do everyday: talking. When we talk with someone, there are surprisingly many challenges that we face immediately. In current business, even casual climates, everyone expects conversation to have an “edge” and that everyone is pushing an angle. This makes people seemingly business-wary, meaning they will have a bias towards your topic right from the start. However, when we try to avoid that situation and save our pitch for another conversation, we will most likely be forgotten by the time our target person has left the building. The trick here is avoiding being cliche while still being memorable. We have to convey our message in a subtle, almost teasing manner to avoid being forgotten and receiving a bias. 

If you read any other article about networking, they rinse and repeat by saying, ” Just talk to them!” – like that is a simple task for everyone. One of the best tips to starting a conversation is to begin by acknowledging something about the other person. After that, you can redirect the conversation to where you want by basing your following questions/responses by theirs. 

One of my tricks is to ask someone about their opinion, because everyone likes to know that their opinion wants to be heard. This shows that you have an interest in their thoughts, but can also give you insight into how they think. Both of these are key components into how you should frame your conversation with this person. Starting off with this gains you information into their thinking style, and gives you subtle control in the conversation.  

Control of the conversation isn’t a direct meaning. If you control the “scenery” of the conversation, you give yourself many hints about them and backdoors for later conversations. The tone of the conversation matters; if it is a deep topic you are bringing up the person may not want to talk about it. Especially while at a networking event, you want to have several important ideas or theories saved for quick use. 

Make sure these ideas and theories are relevant to the event or conversation while still being “light” in meaning. This teases someone into a later conversation where you can draw them in closer and better connect with them. When you first talk to someone and they push for the deep-issues or “heavy” topics, by all means join them. That will show that you can connect with someone and that you know what you are talking about. 

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Placing That Next Conversation

The second step is simply having that next conversation, or following up. Make time for them and have that conversation. Following up is a tactic for keeping you in the front of their mind. You want to be someone’s first thought when they get to work; you want them to collaborate with you. This is how your name spreads and you are beginning to create a network, or a base of support. Creating that network is how you can solidify your position and give you some job security. 

Following up can be done in several different ways, like an email or sending them a message on social media. Any possible way that you can contact them after making a positive first impact is key. That is how you stay in the front of their mind; it can even possibly fix a messed-up first encounter. 

If your first meeting/conversation didn’t go well at all, reach out to them again and apologize with a coffee.  Regaining that contact is what matters, and throwing a coffee or something small in return for their time could work. It could be the key because this environment will be of your choosing, and they just have to listen. This is your chance to regroup and try a different avenue, becoming friends might come before working alongside someone. You don’t have to be personal friends with everyone you work with, but it helps and it solidifies your network. Trying a different avenue in a setting of your choice gives you an edge. Building bridges that won’t be easily burned is the key; keeping contact is the foundation of that bridge. 

Following up is just as important as the first step of networking. It can save a contact and even reinforce an already forming working relationship. It doesn’t even matter how you do it, you just have to follow up your communication. Keeping communication fresh is the beginning of forming the base for your network and is a great habit to have! 

Continuing Your Progress

The last thing we want to do is burn a bridge we spent time building. (Being anxious, it drives me nuts at the thought of saying something wrong and blowing a connection.) That brings the question of how do we track our progress in a working relationship. We cannot just simply go to a person and ask, “how much do you like me?” without damaging the connection. Or at least making it very awkward for a little while or them expecting something crazy from us. 

Looking at interactions between the person and yourself is the key. If they remember to introduce you to new connections, or are constantly hitting you up for feedback/collaborations is an obvious indicator. This means everything is very healthy and growing in a positive direction. 

If it’s reversed, they may feel everything has been one-sided in the connection or they have simply forgotten about you. The sure-fire way to always be remembered and connected is to offer to help more than you receive. Yes this will mean more work for you, however, it will strengthen the connection and keep them in the forefront of your mind. There are many chances to repair a damaged connection, the coffee suggestion is simply one method. If you are hosting an online event, invite them or even those around your targeted contact. That way you cannot miss; if they are invited and don’t show, their contacts will tell them about the event. That way when they show you have that chance to restart the process. The second time however, you will have the knowledge of what happened the first time that caused the damage. This is an advanced option.

They may even feel obligated to introduce you to people who can really help you in your goal. This means you should be careful in who you reach out to for a connection. If someone is “above” your level, look for someone close to them that is on a similar level to you. From there you simply have to work with them and build that connection. This is a beginning of spreading your base. You want to grow your base vertically and horizontally. This means spreading your influence and name to those on “your level” (horizontal growth) and those “above” your level (vertical). If you find ways to get your name and skills around and grow in this manner, success will follow. Or at least more opportunities that you can choose to accept the work or try and save for another time. 

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Changing With the Tides

One factor to any kind of networking that we cannot get around right now is Covid-19. This plays a major role as we have to switch from our in-person networking tactics to online tactics. Luckily we can keep our basic ideas of starting communication, following up, and then picking our future connections. The settings have been changed to places like LinkedIn and various Facebook groups. This should actually help us in a few ways; we are able to “single out” our targeted contact easier. We can send someone a private message and reach out for video conferences easier. We don’t even have to travel there! 

Before starting online networking, we need to know our end goal which is setting up a positive in-person meeting when it is safe to do so. This is a prime opportunity to be able to do quite an amount of pre-meeting networking. You can reach a wide audience right now in your community because everyone has switched to online communications. This is a perfect time to look into hosting your own online events and finding contacts to target.  This is the perfect time to plan your strategy to maximize your work when we switch back to in-person networking. 

This is Just the Beginning

These steps are just the beginning to making your base. Once you have your strong base the fun really begins! You have to start making the big decisions, like choosing an end goal for all of this. Whether that is to become a content-creating specialist, or even if you are creating a place for your business that becomes a one-of-a-kind essential service. These are just examples, and it will take a lot of perseverance and there will be difficulties. 

However this is your start, remember to break the ice in a positive way, follow-up, and remember to plan ahead! Planning ahead requires a few steps as well. You must research your area and target those who are a member of the community that can advance your connections. 

All of this is in combination with basic normalities: if you are trying to be a member, act like it. If you are trying to become a member of a community, don’t go in there being hostile or argumentative. Try and be helpful, offer to help more than you receive and ask questions. Asking questions will never be harmful and has a chance to be a foundation for a connection. There are no stupid questions. Communities like this are there to help and can offer a lot in return for serious help. Never be afraid to learn or take a leap, for that is how we learn to fly. 

Be sure to read the other networking articles: Networking 102, Networking 103, Networking 104, and Networking in Japan: How to Find a Job as an LGBTQIA+ Person.

Writer’s Bio

Isaac Henry is a Content Creator for IGNITE, and is an office intern for a State of Michigan Representative. He is also a sophomore at Michigan State University double-majoring in Japanese and International Relations. He intends to live abroad and even aims to become a Foreign Service Officer. He loves content creation and enjoys doing the work as it feels natural to him. If you want to let him know how this article has affected you, or you have questions, please reach out to him either on his LinkedIn Profile or Facebook and send him a message! Please feel free to even send him an email; he is always open to communication! 




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