Last week I had the opportunity to have breakfast with a venture capitalist here in Silicon Valley. A mutual colleague encouraged the meeting, suggesting that a connection could be beneficial for both of us. The conversation that I had with this gentleman is one that I will not soon forget – particularly his explanation of his personal networking philosophy, starting with this statement, “I go out of my way every day to meet at least one to two new people.”
In the VC world, networking is an essential – but my new acquaintance had a unique strategy that caught my attention. He makes a regular practice of sending cold calls or cold emails to CEOs and other executives, expressing his interest in them and in their technology products. With this icebreaker and the backing of a reputable VC company, he is easily able to turn this conversation into a meeting.
The venture capitalist suggested that, with my role at a large, reputable company, I could employ a similar tactic to expand my professional network. This strategy of directly contacting both interesting individuals and businesses really gave me pause for thought. I started to consider my own approach to networking — and the time and energy I could practically afford to invest in the networking process and outcome that I desired. Although I certainly don’t have the luxury of time to be meeting new people on a daily basis, a goal of one new introduction a week certainly would be achievable.
The value of networking
Even though it can be challenging to fit into an already full schedule, networking is an important skill, and the right connections can make a difference in your professional career. A combination of clear goals and a defined strategy are what you need to make your networking time-efficient and a profitable investment in your future. Even a small amount of time spent effectively networking can have a significant influence on your growth and horizons as a professional. Besides introducing you to even more unique and inspiring people, the right connections can provide you with opportunities that you might never expect. It’s all about learning the art of networking in a way that will further your goals while doing the same for others.
Connect with a plan
The first step to take – even before you make any of those cold calls or emails – is to have a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish with your networking efforts. There is a wide range of goals you can pursue through networking, such as finding mentorship for the next stage of your career, exploring your interest in a career change, or securing a more fulfilling position.
Outside of career pursuits, you can also build your network in order to connect with like-minded professionals with similar interests, establish a partnership for a new project, or find new ways to get involved in a cause that holds your passion. You may even have multiple reasons for investing in networking. The reasons that you have for building out your connections will greatly influence the kind of network that you create and how you go about creating that network. Armed with a clear goal, you will be better able to network efficiently to accomplish your intents.
Build the right network
Once you’ve established and clarified your reasons for networking, you can purposefully build a network that will bring you closer to your goals. The more specific your goal, the more you will be able to target your networking activities to achieve it. From there, you will want to do your research – identifying the individual and business influencers in your field that are a match for your networking plans.
This research should include as much information as you can gather about the organizations and individuals with whom you want to form connections. Everything from their expertise, goals, personal interests and causes to the best methods of reaching out can be key information in successfully forging new connections. In addition, mutual acquaintances, something LinkedIn makes incredibly easy to find, can be a great source for helping with those initial connections. Networking through your current network can be one of the most effective tactics, though sometimes a cold call or email is required to build the right connections.
After you’ve made that connection, whether with a new individual or organization, your work isn’t done. Following up with your new contacts is a critical element of networking and is what makes your network of most value to you. Regular communication with your network keeps those connections active and keeps you at the top of their mind when fitting opportunities arise. A simple message once in while or sharing a useful article can be all that it takes to keep your connections thinking about you – and to show that you are not just connecting for your own gain. It is, however, also important to share your professional goals with your connections, so when they do have or see a need, they know of your interest and qualifications to fill it.
Using these key tips, just a few strategic new contacts a week can be all it takes to further your network and take you further on the pathway towards your professional goals. This investment in yourself is one that you should not neglect, since your future career and opportunities may depend on it.
For insight on social tech vs. personal connections, see Social Media Is Not The Death Of Meaningful Communication.