In summer, the daylight hours are longer and work may be slower because colleagues, partners and customers may be on vacation, which makes it a great time for networking and self-improvement. We think of networking as something one should do when looking for a new job and while that is true, it also has great benefits for overall professional development and business development. There are several types of networking that one can do, such as informal chatter, networking events, volunteering and relationship-building, which can be helpful on your career path or to grow your business or agency.
Entrepreneur defines networking as “developing and using contacts made in business for purposes beyond the reason for the initial contact. For example, a sales representative may ask a customer for names of others who may be interested in his product.” While this definition grasps the concept, networking does not have to take place only in business settings nor is it only leveraging clients’ connections. Summer is usually the time for barbeques, swim parties, walks around the neighborhood, your children’s sporting events, all of which are great opportunities to make connections. It is not necessary or suggested that you deliver a proposal to every person you meet. A quick elevator pitch, which succinctly and simply explains what you or your organization, product, or service does and what problem is solved, will suffice. You can plant the seeds for future engagements. Here are a few other suggestions:
Network by doing things you like to do. Sweatworking refers to combining networking with sweating during an exercise class, running club or other physical activity. One can also volunteer at a charity event, professional association or school event. Volunteering helps one to develop skills, which can be used at work or to add qualifications to a resume. Like at social events, you need to be ready to plant seeds and you may even have fun, gain business prospects, and make new friendships in the process.
Don’t forget formal networking. You can follow up with people you have met previously and set up a coffee or lunch meeting. You can also ask colleagues and friends for recommendations and to make an introduction for you. When you do meet the person to whom you were referred, make a good first impression, take time to get to know the person and their interests, and share how future interaction will benefit both of you. Focus on the relationship and not on what the person can do for you.
Formal events are great. These are typically associated with networking, events such as Chamber of Commerce events, Rotary, Lions, MeetUps, college alumni events, and professional associations. At these meeting have your elevator pitch and business cards ready and conversation starters such as what “challenges are you facing at your company?” rather than only asking “how are you?” and “where do you work?” Be memorable and this includes writing a note on the business card before handing it to the person and following up afterward, preferably with something that can help the person. Many people feel uncomfortable at networking events; the key is preparation in knowing what you will say and developing strategies such as asking questions about the setting. I also am a member of Toastmasters where we practice impromptu and prepared speaking.
No one is an island and it often takes connections to achieve one’s goals. Proactive networking may not be your favorite activity, but it can be a good strategy for building relationships. People prefer to work with people they like and they like people who make them feel good. When networking, approach it from the perspective of what you can do for the other person and sharing your value proposition once you understand what they need.