A guest post by Jordan Hamons
I don’t like the term “networking.” It makes me think of salesmen in cheap suits trying to shake hands and sell products. It feels disingenuous and a little slimy.
ButI know networking is important for my career and business, so I’ve reframed how I think about it. Now I see networking as an opportunity to get to know new people and build relationships with them, rather than just connecting with contacts that can benefit me.
No matter what you call it, building relationships is a key part of doing business and advancing your career. Any relationship, be it personal or professional, takes some nurturing. You can’t meet someone once and expect it to turn into a prosperous partnership. Instead, you have to put in some effort and grow the relationship. Don’t wait until next year to reconnect with the people you met at a conference. Here are some ideas on how to build these new relationships:
1. Follow up. Contact your new connections within a few days of meeting them. In your message, include where you met and specific things you spoke about. Give them some background info so they remember who you are. If you promised to send them something or connect them with someone, now is the time to do it. You can also connect on LinkedIn but don’t forget to include a note about where you met when you send the request.
2. Stay connected via social media. You may not see these people in person until next year, but you can stay in touch online. Share their blog posts, comment on and like their updates, and do what you can to promote them to your circle of people. I always appreciate social media engagement or blog shares from my industry friends and I try to reciprocate whenever possible. Aggregator services (I use Feedly), Twitter lists, and Facebook’s close friends feature can help you keep track of everyone.
Social media can also help break the ice before connecting with someone new. I recently contacted someone to set up a meeting and started the email with, “We haven’t met in person, but we’re connected on social media.” His response was, “I know exactly who you are. Every time I see your Instagram, I get hungry!” Our engagement on social media has already laid the groundwork and we feel like we know a bit about each other. This takes away some of the awkwardness of meeting someone new and will allow our coffee date to be more comfortable and productive.
3. Start the relationship by being helpful. One of the best ways to network is to be helpful and expect nothing in return. If you come across an article or run into an opportunity that would be perfect for one of your new contacts, let them know about it. You can simply write an email that says, “I found this article/opportunity and thought of you.” Sure, they may already know about it, but at the very least, they will appreciate your thoughtfulness. If they didn’t know and you made them aware of a great opportunity, all the better!
4. Don’t be shy. When you’re in the conference mindset, it’s easier to be brave and approach some of your industry heroes. When you get home, you might lose that confidence and feel nervous about getting back in touch. Don’t be shy, go after the connections you want. The worst thing that can happen is the person will say no or won’t respond. Personally, I’d rather be rejected than not try at all. Dianne’s previous post about approaching a famous writer will give you some confidence.
You may see some of your new contacts at other events and conferences throughout the year. Go up and say hello. I don’t know about you, but I hate the feeling of not knowing if someone will remember me. I expect that the person won’t remember me, and start the conversation by re-introducing myself such as “Hi, I’m Jordan, we met last year at IACP in Los Angeles.” You’ve made the other person comfortable by giving your name and where you met, so it puts them at ease and gives them the opportunity to at least pretend like they remember you, even if they don’t!
5. Stay in touch. Check in with your new connections to see how things are going. Send an email to congratulate them on a major accomplishment. Wish them a happy birthday. Going to be in their hometown? See if they are available for coffee or reach out to get their restaurant recommendations. The little things count and help build the relationship.
I used to hate networking but I’ve always loved meeting new people and making new friends. Once I realized that they are one in the same, networking became less painful and is now something I enjoy. If you dread networking events, try to reframe them as relationship building instead. Keep in mind this quote from Robert Lewis Stevenson, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”
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Jordan Hamons writes about food and travel on her blog The Hungry Traveler. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and teaches cooking classes on international baking. Previously, Jordan has worked as a restaurant consultant, food and beverage branding specialist, and as a corporate chef for a Fortune 500 company. You can find her on Instagram and Snapchat as @JordanHamons or at Jordan AT thehungrytravelerblog.com.