The Keys of Networking
A few weeks ago, a television producer I work with regularly said to me, “Heather, you know everyone.” I laughed at the thought and responded with “No, just the right ones.”
Obviously I don’t know everyone, but through out my professional career as a journalist and a communication specialist, I’ve made it a priority to meet lots of different individuals. With each introduction, I file away mentally the person’s name, occupation, and beneficiary factor. What I mean by that is the level of which we could cross paths, or potentially help one another in the future. How does one determine the “beneficiary factor”? Ask yourself the following questions:
1.) Do I know anyone else in their field of expertise?
2.) Is our contact point a reliable source?
3.) How could I benefit their profession?
4.) Are they genuinely interested in me and our conversation?
5.) Have I ever heard anything ‘bad’ about them?
Most of these questions are self explanatory, but just in case networking isn’t your strong suit I’ll explain my logic. Number one is important especially if the individual is in a rare line of work. For example, one of my neighbors has her doctorate in forestry, which means she specializes in trees and spends most of her time playing outside in the woods. As of now, she is the only person I know in this field, which makes her easy enough to remember. Let’s say though she was in a more common profession like photography or real estate. How would I remember her then? Well I would dialogue a bit more with her. Chances are you know several real estate agents or photographers, so you need to find out what makes her stick out from the others. I’d ask her questions about hobbies or family life and see if there is a deeper connection, underneath the professional realm. For instance, if I found out she specialized in equine realty or that she got into photography for more flexibility with her kids, I’d be more apt to use/recommend her.
The second question is important to consider, because it can save you valuable time. If I already know our point of connection isn’t someone I would refer, then most likely this person isn’t either. That isn’t always the case, but I’ve found that old saying ‘misery loves company’ isn’t too far off the mark. However, if you want to give someone the benefit of the doubt that’s fine too, but keep in mind another wise phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
The third question you should be able to answer immediately. If you can’t then I’d recommend not networking until you know what you bring to the table.
Number four you’ll be able to tell, from initial interaction, while number five may take a little bit to determine. Keep in mind though, not everything going around the rumor mill is correct. If you answer all the other questions successfully, I suggest forming an opinion your own.
If the person makes it past the fab five, then I add them to my contact list. Now, I don’t wait till I need them to call on them. In my opinion, that is rude. I merely get to know them and keep an open line of communication until opportunity comes a calling. This plan of action, has not only helped me connect lots of professionals but also enabled me to weed out the bad ones, without any drama.
One other suggestion I offer is to keep business cards of your contacts in a book. I know it sounds old school, but just in case you lose your phone, or the cloud didn’t back up your contacts, you’ve got all your peeps immediately at your disposal.
One final note to consider- you’re always networking-even if you don’t realize it. In this day and age, people are always watching therefore don’t produce a bad product and please, please act in a professional manner.