For many people the word “networking” conjures up visions of large meeting halls full of strangers passing out and collecting business cards. Worse, it seems like half of these people are out of work and desperately looking for their next job, while the other half are trying to sell something. If you own or manage a company why on earth should such an activity be of interest to you? It may not be, but that doesn’t mean you should put “networking” at the bottom of your priorities list. Here are some ways to network with people who could be of real value to you that you may not have thought of before:
1. Join a local business association in your industry or/and community and become an active committee member.
Networking for business is just that. It’s not about showing up an annual golf event or an occasional breakfast meeting. It has a purpose – to build connections with influential people in your industry and community and by so doing make your own business (and you!) more influential in turn. To do that, you first have to prove your worth by investing time, energy and, sometimes, funds in the effort.
Here’s what you get in return. By working for an organization – whether it’s your local Chamber of Commerce, a charity or an industry association – you’ll have a chance to demonstrate your leadership, knowledge and ability to get things done in real time. In the course of your committee work you’ll not only be able to connect with and impress your fellow team members, but the group as a whole. Eventually your efforts could make you eligible for board membership. Becoming a board member will significantly raise your personal profile and that of your company, enabling you to make an even higher level of contacts than before.
Tip: You’ll actually be expected to WORK as well as attend meetings, read notes, make decisions, etc. But doing all of these things will build your reputation and, just as importantly, your relationship with other members. Networking is a lifelong activity and the friendly partnerships you forge can serve as an invaluable safety net and business resource when you need it most.
2. Participate in job fairs and workshops.
Yes, this is networking. It’s also a good thing to do to support the future economic growth of your community, your industry and your company. And if you feel awkward at networking events – consider this: sitting at a vendor table, people come to you. So there’s no need to walk aimlessly about the room, trying to make small talk no one listens to and feeling like the wallflower at the prom.
Even more to the point, these events are full of hard-working, ambitious people seeking a better future. Some of them may have been or perhaps still are employed by your competitors. Now you can interview them without paying a headhunter to find them! Other attendees may still be in school and looking for a employer in need of their cutting-edge skills. When they graduate with honors, your company could be at the top of their “who I want to work for” list.
Remember, participating in these fairs not only gives you a chance to connect with some potential employees, but the movers and shakers who run these events as well. You can also use these events as research to see who has heard of your company, what they think of it and how effective your marketing and public relations efforts seem to be. Again, this information is FREE and could be incredibly useful in improving and strengthening your brand and marketing communications. One more plus, you’ll be helping people who need it. So after the event you can enjoy knowing that you’ve just made a valuable contribution to your community and your neighbors.
Tip: If you treat this event like a chore it will be. If you look at it as a process of discovery it will be that and more.
3. Informational interviews.
How are informational interviews networking? If you’re meeting qualified people in your industry who request a face-to-face interview, clearly that’s networking. Someday, probably sooner rather than later, one of these interviewees could turn out to be the perfect candidate for a job you have to fill. Or they may just be a valuable contact who ends up working for a competitor, a vendor or an organization that you’d like to connect with. If the interview goes well, make that person part of your lifelong network. Even if you never hire them, you could still benefit from their knowledge, connections and friendship.
Keep in mind that people who request an informational interview are probably visiting other companies as well. Don’t be afraid to ask them their opinion of the competition, any impressions of the industry as a whole they may have formed based on their interviews and even advice about how you can make your company stand out from the rest. An informational interview should add to the knowledge of both people during the conversation – not just one. Keep all the resumes people offer you in a folder and ask them to connect with you on LinkedIn or keep in touch with you periodically by email. And the next time you have a hard-to-fill position you might find that the perfect candidate is as close as the folder tucked in your bottom drawer.
Tip: This is not only an ideal opportunity to interview recent graduates, but industry veterans, too. You could collect your own database of potential consultants without spending a dime on finder fees or recruitment ads.
Hope this gives you some ideas on how building your network can help grow your business, your brand and your reputation within the community. Another way is to contact Crux Creative. We’re full of business-generating ideas and would love to share them with you as part of your network. Hope to hear from you soon.