How to network – 5 early habits for personal branding
A conversation with an old friend today sparked some ideas for this article which I’ve been thinking of writing for a while. We all have heard how important networking is but do you really know how to go about doing it? A wise person once told me “if you’re attending a networking event more than once a fortnight, you should probably re-evaluate the time spent there.” Especially for nooby undergrads and more generally those about to enter the workforce, it can be a little intimidating (maybe more than a little). Don’t fret! Everybody starts somewhere and it wouldn’t be too hard if you take it a baby step at a time.
1. Define goals and strategies
First things first, the objective has to be clear – why are you at a place? It could be as simple as building relationships with people of similar interest. Or perhaps to gain knowledge from the speakers. On a more strategic account, one could be networking to find leads or to build business partnerships. This would be more relevant to independent jobs like lawyers, designers, accountants, artists, etc. Have a solid motivation to be there as well as a clear checklist to tick off. This will be the basis of your self-evaluation after. From there you should be able to figure out if you were at the right place where the right people are.
2. Think win-win relationships
Once you clear part 1, it boils down to execution. You notice someone you fancy, how do you approach the person? If you want them to acknowledge you, be sure to present something (information, your skills) that could be of benefit for them. The assumption here is that you have sufficient knowledge of the person. (so do your due diligence and look him/her up on your mobile if you can’t do so at home) If the person is a speaker, perhaps pick up a point in the presentation that interest you and spark a conversation from it, of course with the win-win mentality in mind. You could either give some feedback/opinion on it or suggest something related that you know of. The win-win approach sets a mutual tone, rather than a repellant tone (i.e. seeking for advice without anything in return) which automatically sets yourself at a disadvantaged position.
3. Ride on digital waves
You need allies and sufficient brain ammo when you go out into that war zone so be sure to spend enough time in the digital space to source for information and knowledge. Social media like Twitter and Linkedin are only as good as how you use it, be it to connect to higher ups or to crowd source your own information channel. It is the easiest medium to keep up with trends and buzz as well as engage with prominent people within your areas of interest. A wise lady once told me that the best way to get started in the social media realm is to ride on the network of top influencers in the industry by engaging with them (i.e. comment, mention, share, blog). The digital realm has the least barriers hence can be used as the catalyst for building an online image and sparking offline relationships.
4. Be part of the action
Once you’re more or less set on your areas of interest, it is pretty common that you’ll stumble upon opportunities to get involved with side projects or helping people out with your knowledge and expertise. Use your time well and work on projects that make you sparkle and people that rock your boat. Although most of these activities don’t earn you direct monetary returns, they usually give you returns in other more meaningful ways like a good portfolio, powerful network of relevant skill sets, job openings and wonderful experiences that money can’t buy. So never underestimate the power of getting involved or simply helping out whenever you have the time because you’ll never know when those connections will come in handy. Choose your battles and make every single moment of your life count!
5. Bend the rules
We live in a world of imperfections and bureaucracy so it is important to cultivate the habit of thinking outside the box (as cliche as it sounds). Tell yourself “why not?” instead of “can I?”. If you want something, do what it takes and worry about the ‘what ifs’ when you get to it. A wise lad once told me, “ask for forgiveness, not permission”.