I sat on a panel for the Burlington Young Professionals last week on "Networking Up". It was designed to help young people (even though there were some older ones in the audience) get the job they wanted, meet new people, and ditch just handing out business cards and hoping for the best. I shared the stage with two great Burlington people - Lou McKenna of Grey Dog Media and Jonathon Wilson from Dealer.com. They had great points of view on how to network in the Burlington area and beyond. I especially liked Lou's point of having to make something out of nothing - and quick. Plus, Jonathan pointed out the importance of having a vision and taking small steps to achieve it.
Then it was my turn.
I typically am a bit more "out-there" when I speak in public. Engaging might be a better word for it. But, if I had to sit in a plastic chair for an hour, I'd want to at least have a smile on my face, right?
I had planned what I wanted to say on the back of my business card (Ironic? Yes.) and got to talking. I provided a lot of tips and tricks in the few years I've been networking and wanted to outline them for you here:
1. Utilize your parent's networks
When I was 15, I wanted to start a cookie business because no one would hire me. I didn't know the first thing about starting a business, so I asked my parents. They hooked me up with ingredient suppliers, a table, and lots of people they knew to help grow my first business. They continue to help to this day with their connections. After all, your parents have 20-30 more years of networking under your belts than you do.
2. Pick your targets
I've attended several networking events over the past few weeks. There were a handful of people there (in some cases hundreds), but I didn't want to talk to 95% of them. I picked a handful, researched them, and found them at the event. It's fine to strike up conversations with strangers, but have a plan. You never know who you're going to meet. If you meet someone and they aren't going to help you towards your goal, move on to find someone who will.
3. Location is not required
Networking doesn't have to happen in just your town. I have built relationships with people in California, Iowa, Tennessee, and even India, and England. Burlington - a town of only 40,000 - is my closest networking hub. That means if I can't find people in Burlington, I have to look elsewhere. Think outside your town and see who you can connect with.
4. Learn to socialize
I publicly admitted at this event that I watched YouTube videos to learn how to talk to people. While many in the audience laughed, my ability to start and hold a conversation has improved 10-fold. While I do struggle to keep some conversations going, practice makes perfect - and that means you have to get out there to talk to people. The videos I watched were from Ramit Sethi. Some of the tips included asking questions, listening instead of talking about yourself, and talking to people who aren't talking to anyone else. They're worried about looking awkward, too!
5. Your reputation is fragile
Don't burn bridges - especially in a small town. If you disrespect someone, it comes back to hit you ten times harder. That means you have to be careful about what you say, write, and do around people - and online.
What networking tips do you have?