BACK TO BASICS … BUILDING YOUR NETWORK

“It’s not what you know but who you know.”

We’ve all heard that phrase before attributed to being the key factor in getting ahead in all walks of life, and whilst this cliché is not strictly true, making more connections with peers and contacts in your chosen industry will help you to advance your career, increase your knowledge and your exposure and make you feel more part of a community than an individual.

This blog outlines key tips and hints to building your network. Firstly, we’ll look at why it’s beneficial to network.

WHY NETWORK?

  • Academia/research. Many academics share their studies and publications at networking events and conferences and also online. Not only does this help to share their knowledge to benefit their field and the world we live in, but it also prompts those interested to discuss it and share it. If you are interested in pursuing academia networking is a great way to learn from and interact with those who are esteemed in your field or those at a similar stage to you.
  • Getting a job. To go back to the cliché that opened the blog many people are hired through personal recommendation or through knowing the employer. If you have two candidates with similar experiences and who both did well at interview, but the employer knows one of them either through networking or through their online presence, then the chances are they’ll hire the person they know more about especially if they think they are a good character.
  • Promoting yourself/your product. If you run a business, sell a product/service (I’ll use product as an umbrella term for rest of the blog) or work as a freelancer then it does not matter how good you are or how brilliant your product is, if no one knows about it then no one will see/buy/watch/invest in it.  Networking is a great tool for reaching new audiences, increasing exposure and for your recommendations. The more people that know about your product and value the more others will hear about it, or will trust their recommendation.
  • It’s fun … yes it can be! Whilst standing in a room with a bunch of strangers talking about work may be some people’s idea of hell, networking can be a lot of fun and does not always involve talking shop. Many conversations will start with ‘what do you do?’ but by the end of the conversation you may be talking about the Line of Duty finale, your new hobby you took up in lockdown or the best places to eat in town … and have secured a new client or whatever it is you were after. People are still … people. Whilst work or business may be the opener to the conversation, if you have shared interests or a chemistry with that person you’ll enjoy the conversation and making new connections nonetheless. Also, networking doesn’t have to be at a conference centre. Some networking events take place in bars and provide a complimentary drink and food, some networking can be more informal. For example, if you work in the creative arts industry there are plenty of bars in Liverpool such as Liverpool Arts Bar on Hope Street in which new plays, films, poetry nights, art exhibitions are blossoming out of two like-minded artists stood at the bar with a pint of Mahou talking about what type of art they love to create. Be creative and think about where and how can I network asides from official events.

Now that we’ve gone over why it’s valuable to network. Here’s a few tips on how to. I’ll split this into ‘real world’ and online sections.

HOW TO NETWORK

Real world

  • Depending on what sector/industry you’re looking to network in there’s plenty of resources to find events. Following events page and companies within your sector on social media is a great way to find these, Facebook in particular will be good for posting events pages as will LinkedIn. Eventbrite is also a great place to search. And there’s always good old word of mouth. Check out websites of companies and most importantly venues.
  • Don’t be nervous! Might be easier said than done but you’ve had conversations before, you are interesting … ask questions, listen to the answers, give positive and open body language and you’ll do great.
  • Sometimes the hardest part is finding a conversation to join, especially if like me you’re always late and everyone’s already in full flow. Best to join a bigger group in which it’s likely the conversation will be more shared and you’ll be welcomed in and asked to introduce yourself. If it’s two people having a discussion you may be interrupting them and they may not wish another person to join right at that moment.
  • Get business cards. They’re an easy way for connections you meet to get in touch and contact you and also to remember you after meeting lots of new people. It also widens your network. Say, for example, you’re a graphic designer and you hand your card to someoen at an event, they may not need your services but someone they know might and if your business card is there to hand it’s an easy way to gain a recommendation. It also gives you a greater air of professionalism that shows your serious about what you do. they’re also really handy if you’re bad with names! Some networking events also do prize draws if you throw your card into a hat. This lucky blogger won a free cocktail making class for them and their colleagues at a bar in Chavasse Park off the back of one of these.
  • Exiting a dead end. This will happen. You’ll be stuck in a boring conversation that’s neither stimulating conversation nor is it actually beneficial to your work/study/brand. Don’t be rude – this is important as word will travel fast … but simply find a natural break in the conversation, smile and tell them it’s been lovely chatting and that you’re going to mingle or ‘work the room some more.’ We all know what it means but no one’s feelings will be hurt.
  • Be respectful of everyone’s boundaries. As we move back into social gatherings and crowds many people will be feeling anxious either due to safety concerns or from not being used to social interactions and gatherings. Before 2020 it would be deemed rude not to shake someone’s hand, now I would say it would be rude and imposing to force that upon someone. Greet with a smile or offer a friendly elbow bump. You both may feel more inclined to shake hands or even hug later on, but for that first interaction be sure to respect boundaries and any rules or guidelines that either the government has imposed or the event runners have outlined.

Online

  • Create an online presence. In recent times we have had to take our work, studies, social lives and even our yoga classes into an online world. For many of us this has been a challenge but it’s also a great opportunity to broaden your network and connect with people you may not have come across at an in-person event. Whether this is on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or even Tik Tok your ability to showcase your interests, ability, business model, product, knowledge and most importantly your personality will be key to gaining attention and finding new connections. Even on a site liked LinkedIn more and more users are posting content that not only promotes their product but also shows that they are fun, interesting and a ‘real person.’ Be creative with what you post, share articles that interest you, generate discussion and get talking!
  • Zoom. You probably don’t need many more tips on how to Zoom but here’s a couple for networking:
  • Practice your pitch. This goes for in person events too but it’s even more important online when the networking may be structured so that each person speaks to everyone on the call for say one minute. If your pitch is messy and not concise you won’t get your key points and message across.
  • Stay on mute. If someone else has the floor stay on mute. It’s respectful and you wouldn’t want the builders shouting over you when you pitch.
  • Share your contact info on the chat. Not everyone will stay on the call so this is a good way to write a quick blurb and post your email address, LinkedIn, Instragram, website etc so you can be remembered better and contacted. Also, simply due to the way zoom is you can’t guarantee everyone will be giving you their full attention. Whether it’s an important email that’s just popped up, a funny meme on twitter, the doorbell going or simply zoom attention fatigue.
  • Stay focused. On that point, if you are on a zoom networking call, try to keep the zoom on full screen if possible and do not multi task. One, it’s rude, and two you never know what you might miss.

Now that you have a greater understanding of why networking is vital and how to do it what’s stopping you? Whether it’s online or at an event make the most of the opportunity to connect, interact and engage with new clients, businesses and academic peers to advance your career prospects.

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