It is ingrained into every young professional either in college or by the time they are embarking…
It is ingrained into every young professional either in college or by the time they are embarking upon their first career move, that “networking” is important. Because this is my first year to mentor a High School Junior, I decided to give this concept of networking some thought. I have also spent all year with CFOs and while I love my CFO community, they are notoriously introverted. It is no secret that in life, “who you know” matters in both personal and professional betterment. Access to the right “who” for any given situation largely depends on the diversity of one’s network.
Building that network by PHYSICALLY networking, however, can be exhausting. 2019 was my heaviest networking year to date having joined the Steering Committee of two professional organizations among other networking commitments I added. Even the most social of butterflies can get burned out by “networking” if the gain isn’t measurable- there are, after all, only so many coffee slots in any given week.
How then, can we ensure that our precious networking time yields an “ROI?” 4 national conferences, 31 networking Happy Hours/Breakfasts/Lunch & Learns, 1 international trade show, and one panel participation later, in 2019 I have learned there are three main components to maximizing my networking time. This is now my barometer when it comes to scheduling my networking involvement and what I will advise my new mentee and younger professional colleagues- I call this the A, B, C’s of Achieving Networking ROI.
A“Activity isn’t just Physical- Leverage LinkedIn”
While social interaction is one of the main reasons for Networking, it is important to note that “activity” isn’t just in person meetings which can pose logistical challenges and add scheduling complexity. A video meeting, phone call or email can be just as powerful when networking and less intrusive on your time. I find that because I enjoy reading in the morning, emailing relevant articles and sharing them with my LinkedIn Network takes little to no effort and speaks volumes about my commitment to a contact, group or topic. There are tools that can make the job easier and even automated if you clearly define what you hope to achieve.
At the end of the day, the purpose of “networking” is to nurture your network, the channels used are up to you. As long as you are weaving in occasional social events or one-on-ones, starting with 4 Physical Networking Events a year is a solid beginning. The trick to a successful Networking Program is to start with a realistic allotment of time and a purposeful goal. A good rule of thumb for beginners, is to break up the year by quarters to determine how much physical time you spend networking. You should be able to attend one social engagement a quarter.
But, you should start with LinkedIn to narrow your scope of possible events or groups to check out. Start by typing in a topic of interest to you or of relevance to your profession. For example, you might have heard about Robotic Process Automation (RPA) but feel silly that you are the only one in the office who can’t explain it. In this case, perhaps you begin by searching “RPA Events NYC” and begin following the groups or individuals who post events about RPA. Hashtags are also great ways to search for relevant new networking opportunities: Type ‘#RPA’ into the Search Field in LinkedIn and you’ll find content, people and companies all associated to the topic. Leveraging Social Media and email to keep in touch with your network and prospecting new contacts to socialize with, is a great way to maximize your reach while staying safely behind your smart phone or laptop.
B “Balance your Branding”
I didn’t realize the importance of connecting our “real life” to our “social media life” until my current employer hired a Social Media/Content Strategist earlier this year. I fail as a millennial because I didn’t even have an active Twitter account nor did I see the connection of using my written voice and personal blogging to my business goals and objectives. What a fool I was. In my case, writing comes naturally so I began to develop my voice by bravely venturing out on LinkedIn and finding articles posted by people I admired and commenting on them. As I built up my gusto, and began to really learn the content to which I was participating in, I developed my social media voice and decided that an authentic, witty tone was the best way to match the real Paula with the Social Media Paula. So how does branding tie back to networking?
It’s simple. By posting articles you hope to connect with people on, you are essentially ringing a reminder bell to your online network that you have interests in those categories. By implementing a hashtag, you begin grouping the interests into buckets and the process becomes industrialized. After three months of consistently participating on LinkedIn and Twitter, tweaking my external brand along the way, I began to receive InMails inviting me to networking events, Meetups and Webinars where like-minded people would be. The effort to find a networking group dissipated and my social media engine began to do the networking for me. Today, I probably find 80% of the networking events I participate in and attend via LinkedIn. It saves me time and is an efficient way to balance your brand without attending every single networking event you google in your area.
C “Consistency is Key”
The frequency of your participation both online and in person must be consistent and therefore evaluated at the beginning- a good rule of thumb is to consider one event a quarter as a “networking beginner.” Then ultimately, the goal is to increase participation until you are consistently networking once a month (remember this can be online, via webinar or in person.) What this also allows for in your personal branding, is a touchpoint by announcing where you’ll be to your social media network- the networking process again, becomes industrialized like a well-oiled machine. Studies show that timing of emails, calls and posts in relationship development is key to building trust with the recipient(s). It helps buyers, peers and colleagues get to know each other in an unobtrusive way while providing comfort to a new peer, colleague or friend.
Another important component to networking is becoming a consistent fixture within a group so as to be known by key players in the group- this way, should you come across the need for an introduction, interview or even an investment banker- your network might now afford you the proper introductions. It goes back to the importance of diversification of your network and the consistent brand balancing. Think of networking like a savings account, you have to continue to pad your investment so the day you need to cash in, you have enough for a significant withdrawal. Introductions are not made lightly.
While these A, B, C’s provide a good framework for how to approach a balanced networking program, it is also important to comment on what NOT to do. The worst thing one can do is fall prey to what I call “opportunistic networking” aka I need a job NOW. That self-serving agenda can be sniffed out from a mile away, but it’s an easy trap to fall into. When you work a full time job and have been in that role for a long time- it is human nature to become complacent or reallocate networking energy on other priorities. It only takes showing your face and making an effort once a quarter to not appear opportunistic, trust me- we are all busy and that is more than enough face time for any given organization.
Conversely, the BEST way to approach networking, and this is from tried and tested experience: see where you can consistently GIVE to an organization or group within the time constraints your boundaries allow. That’s where you’ll truly realize the ROI of Networking both monetarily and soulfully. I am in sales so it may seem that by default my interest in networking is self-serving. To that I will add another anecdote: my biggest career lead to date came after making an introduction from one General Counsel to a new Investment Banker. As I write these observations, I am smiling to myself knowing that some of the relationships I have developed in 2019 may not be in my pipeline, but they are Paula fans and allies.
And that, at the end of the day, is the purpose of networking. To generate common interests for the betterment of those around us so that one day when the need is ours, there will be a place to draw from. “From what we get, we can make a living; what we GIVE, however, makes a life.” -Winston Churchill