How many times have you heard that phrase?
Has that phrase ever frustrated you because you didn't feel like you 'knew' anyone?
All is not lost. Making connections and knowing people isn't just about being born in the right family or going to the right school. It can also be a result of proactively cultivating a group of people around you who are not only a great support network, but encourage and inspire your growth.
Wondering how to get there? Well, here are a few steps to get you started...
1. Go to all the random events related to your sector (and then TALK to people!)
I have lost count of the number of random events I have attended (quite often by myself) because I wanted to learn something or thought it would be useful. These talks, conferences and breakfasts were the are how I started to cultivate a support network within the worlds I was interested in.
Start with the professional body for your sector. In engineering for example, the first port of call would be the Engineers Australia website and event page.
The next step would be to register for all the events you are interested in or have interesting people speaking.
If you are nervous at the prospect of going alone, perhaps take a friend or work colleague.
It always helps if you arrive earlier, as the room will fill around you. Also, if there are only three people in the room, you're likely to end up talking to each other.
Suppress the urge to nurse a drink and stand in a corner. Remember everyone is there to meet people too! They won't mind if you strike up a conversation. If you are finding it difficult, start with the basics:
- Open with something about the event - it is a good common ground to talk about (you're both there for a reason after all!)
- Ask where they are from or what they do, and pay attention to the answer! (Not only is that respectful and you might learn something new, but it always helps down the line)
- If you walk into a room by yourself and everyone is already in small groups, you can always try catching the eye of someone and asking "do you guys mind if I join in?". More often than not they will be more than happy to bring you into the fold and they will already be talking about a topic ("so what were you guys talking about?") so you're all set!
2. Get in contact with the people you met within three days.
So you've attended your event, you have a couple of key business cards and email addresses, the next step is to actually follow up!
Within three days is usually ideal - they shouldn't have forgotten you by then. A short email of introduction usually works, with perhaps a link to something useful or a reference to something you discussed. For example...
"Hi Mr M&M,
I hope this email finds you well! Just a quick note to say that it was fantastic meeting at the Engineers Australia talk on Monday night. It was great having a chat to you about the developments in the gas industry in Queensland; I definitely learnt a lot! I particularly enjoyed your comments about the importance of a company's social licence to operate.
I actually came across this link about gas developments on Curtis Island yesterday that I thought you might be interested in.
Anyhow, I would love to stay in touch - perhaps we can catch up for a coffee sometime in the next few weeks?
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Short, sweet, and to the point.
3. Stay in contact with them!
One of the best pieces of advice I got about keeping my network alive was to send people postcards on my trips to stay on people's radar. This works particularly well with busier people who might meet thousands of new people a year!
Emailing the person right after you meet them is all well and good, but the key is in developing that relationship. In that first email, offer to shout them a coffee, and then organise a time and follow through.
Even if you are completely scared and not sure what you would talk about, just ask to catch up! I once asked a random Head of Mechanical Engineering of a company out for a coffee after an event I attended. It lead to a job offer. You won't know if you don't try...
If that makes you uncomfortable or isn't feasible, at least stay in contact with them via email, phone or letter.
What I usually do is meet up with the person within a month or two, and then send a 'catch up' email or card at least once or twice a year. It may not sound like much, but it is all about maintaining that network and keeping it alive.
Sending a hand written card is a surefire way to get yourself noticed and remembered. Festive seasons are also a great time to send cards to your networks and friends. Get creative...
I love writing cards to people, and the hand written note is usually appreciated. It adds a personal touch, and is uncommon enough that it won't get lost in the black holes of inboxes. That is if you send it to the correct address of course...
At the end of the day, remember that everyone you meet is a human being. We all are people with stories, personalities, likes, dislikes, ideas and experiences. The way I see it, 'networking' is a dry and impersonal term for 'meeting new people' or 'making friends' - making friends with cool, interesting, random people who operate in similar (or very different) circles to your own.
Some people see it differently - they see 'networking' as a purely focused or business based exercise. Perhaps...
In my opinion though, you shouldn't go to an event soley to 'network', you should go to learn something, meet new people and gain an experience. If you come out from the event with a few cards and a lead for a job that is great, but there is so much more in valuing each and every experience and person you meet on their own merits, and not on what they can offer you. Remember, it's not all about you either. Make sure you give back! That's a whole other blog post though...
So get out there, have some fun and meet new people! What are your tips?