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THE ART OF NETWORKING

"Networking is marketing. Marketing yourself, marketing your uniqueness, marketing what you stand for." - Christine Comaford-Lynch, businesswoman and author, pointing out the personal branding aspect of networking.

 

A few years ago, the word “networking” sent chills down my spine. When I share my fear with others, it seems to surprise them.

 

I have always been a “people person.” We lived in a neighborhood with no other children when I was very young, and I longed for friends. I was thrilled when I started kindergarten, and there were other children. My social skills were lacking because I only had my younger brother to interact with. So, as much as I liked being around children, something about me made most of them keep their distance.

 

As I got older, my social skills improved, I had friends, and my need for people was fulfilled. However, my behavior continued to be immature. It was not until I started learning the art of networking that my social skills developed.

 

When I moved to Fresno to take over the family business, I often was told I needed to network and the importance of participating in that practice, but I did not know how.

 

Why did I think networking was so complicated?

·      Did I have a professional demeanor?

·      What would I say?

·      What if I make a fool of myself?

And the list goes on!!!

 

As I shared in my last blog, moving to Fresno was one of my most significant changes. I took over the family business and realized if I wanted to gain more business, I had to step into the public view and market the business.

 

My first opportunity to network on a larger scale was at a Fresno Chamber of Commerce mixer. I experienced much anxiety and was not sure what to expect. I had many scenarios going through my head. I finally pulled up my big girl pants and went into the mixer.

 

It was a lovely evening, and I talked to many people and found that I enjoyed myself. I also realized that I needed to be better prepared. I needed an Elevator Talk about my business, and I needed to take my business cards, relax, and be myself.

 

I have a friend who kept taking me to Rotary, introducing me to other people in business, and helping me talk to people I believed to be better than me. After 11 years, I have found my place. I serve on committees, am on the board, and look forward to Monday lunches.

 

I am now a Fresno Chamber of Commerce ambassador and often meet businesspeople. I enjoy talking with them, telling them how great I think Fresno is, and I feel like I am doing what I was called to do.

 

Since I moved to Fresno, I have become more professional, learned to discuss things with others and feel good about the person I have become. I learned much of this by watching others and seeing how they behaved. I learned not only how to present myself but also how not to present myself.

Improving networking involves developing skills and adopting a mindset focused on building meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships. Here are some strategies to strengthen networking abilities:

 

1.    Shift Your Mindset: View networking as an opportunity to learn, share, and help others rather than just a means to gain personal advantages. This approach fosters genuine connections.

2.    Be Curious: Show genuine interest in people. Ask open-ended questions to learn more about their experiences, challenges, and successes. Active listening demonstrates your interest and helps build rapport.

3.    Practice Your Elevator Pitch: Be able to succinctly describe who you are, what you do, and what value you bring. A clear and compelling introduction makes it easier for others to remember and refer you.

4.    Attend Networking Events: Regularly attend industry conferences, seminars, and meetups. These events provide opportunities to meet new people and stay informed about industry trends.

5.    Leverage Social Media: Use platforms like LinkedIn to connect with industry professionals. Share relevant content, engage in discussions, and reach out to people whose work you admire.

6. Follow-up: After meeting someone, send a follow-up message to express your appreciation for the conversation and suggest ways to stay in touch. Prompt follow-ups help solidify the connection.

7.    Offer Help: Look for ways to assist others. Whether providing information, introducing, or offering expertise, helping others can strengthen your relationships and encourage reciprocity.

8.    Prepare: Before attending an event or meeting someone, do your homework. Knowing about the person's interests, work, and recent accomplishments can make conversations more meaningful.

9.    Set Networking Goals: Define what you hope to achieve through networking, such as meeting potential mentors, finding job opportunities, or learning about new industries. Clear goals can guide your networking efforts.

10. Be Persistent but Patient: Building a solid network takes time. Continue reaching out and engaging with your contacts, but don’t expect immediate returns. Patience and persistence are key.

11. Be Authentic: Be yourself. Authenticity builds trust and helps form deeper connections. People are more likely to engage with and remember someone who is genuine and sincere.

12. Develop a Positive Online Presence: Ensure your online profiles reflect your professional interests and accomplishments. A positive online presence makes you more attractive to potential contacts.

13. Practice Good Etiquette: Be respectful of others’ time and boundaries. When networking, be clear about your intentions, and avoid being overly aggressive or “salesy.”

14. Stay in Touch: Keep your network alive by periodically checking in with your contacts, sharing interesting articles, and congratulating them on their achievements.

 

Improving networking skills is a continuous process. By actively engaging with others, offering value, and remaining open to learning, you can significantly enhance your ability to build and maintain professional relationships.

 

I hope this blog helps and you can reach out to others and network!

 

Have a great day! 


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