Not Into Networking? How To Build Meaningful Connections

In December I delivered the keynote address at the Morris County Chamber of Commerce, Women In Business lunch (my “Networks: It’s All In The Way That You Use It” outlines my remarks to the Chamber members in attendance). Suspecting there may be more questions that I’d have time to answer during the Q&A portion of the event,  I offered to answer any and all questions submitted in writing. Below I’ve reproduced the networking questions I received, together with my answers:

What are your top 3 ways to use Linkedin for networking?
What is the best way to maximize networking on Linkedin?

This is not a paid endorsement: I love Linkedin for business networking! My top Linkedin tips for networking are:

  • Get a professional headshot.
  • Aim to post an update 2-3 times a week with an article or an event of professional interest. I typically find posting during the weekday in the morning produces the most engagement with my network.
  • Using the summary section of your profile in a dynamic way (that is, create content which requires updating every 2 or so weeks). When you update your profile a notification is sent to all your contact and the revised portion of your profile is highlighted. Why not draw your connections back to your profile on a regular basis by pointing them to the information you really want them to see?
  • Always personalize invitations to connect when you’re reaching out to someone you’ve just met. A customized message (“Nice to meet you at the December 5 Women in Business luncheon”) is more likely to result in a connection than the auto-connect “I’d like to add you to my professional network” message which LinkedIn provides.
  • Use the Slideshare feature to post content regarding your services, business or expertise.
  • Create a company page for your business.
  • Reach out when one of your contacts updates their profile, has a professional anniversary or updates their profile with a promotion or other career milestone.

 

What is the best course of action to engage local media?

Engaging or pitching the media is both an art and a science – and a huge challenge. Journalists are operating an environment of deadlines, multiple communication platforms and extreme information overload. Engaging the media within this environment requires preparation, focus and persistence.

A few questions to ask yourself before reaching out engage the media:

  • What is your goal? If it is entirely self-serving, then good luck! If however your approach is on helping the journalist then you’ll have a better shot at getting their attention. Supply background information. Share unique insights. Make connections to knowledgeable people.
  • Are you thinking like a journalist? Does your ask pass the “tell me something I don’t already know” or “tell me something I do know in a new way” test? Unless you have a fresh take, a reporter is not interested in simply telling another story on the same topic they wrote about last week.
  • Did stop to think that you’re pitching a person? You may have a honed in a publication you want to get a story in but remember you’re reaching out to a living, breathing human being and focus in on the people who are most likely to be interested in your expertise / story line.

 

What are the top 3 companies helping small business maximize social media?

Before you engage anyone to help you maximize social media, determine the primary why of your engagement. Is it general marketing? Is it new client outreach/discovery? Is it customer relations? Is it for PR or media? The more you can articulate the why of your use (aka the ROI you’re expecting) the better you’ll be in guiding the company you retain to assist or guide you with social media. Some resources I’d suggest looking into:

  • CloudPeeps (vetted social media and community managers for business).
  • American Express OPEN Forum (lots of good advice for and by entrepreneurs on the OPEN blog)
  • Mind My Business (an app which notifies small businesses about happenings which could affect the bottomline).

 

What’s the best way to get networked to other women startup leaders, women in technology and to sit on boards of tech startups?

Here’s how I did it:

  • attending tech startup events especially those events targeted at women founders (meetups, hackathons, conferences and panel discussions)
  • investing in startups (Pipeline Fellowship program caused me to become an active investor at the early stage)
  • mentoring startups with no expectation of a return (through accelerators or other startup programs)

Some suggestions on where to start networking (beyond Pipeline Fellowship): 37 Angels, Astia, Princeton Tech Meetup, Women 2.0, Philly Women In Tech Summit, Third Wave Fashion, Open Source Fashion.

 

How do you manage many requests for one to ones?

I struggle with this very time demand/management challenge! Currently I am using a tool called “Calendly” to schedule random meeting requests for advice and guidance. Calendly permits me to customize the when, how often and how long for meetings and puts the requests directly into my calendar. I keep a weekly 90 minute window for scheduling these types of meetings (15 minutes / phone call only). Handling meeting requests this way is helping me stay present during those meetings as well as being highly efficient and effective. Knowing there is a time limit, ensures you stay focused and get to the point!

 

Any advice on starting a board of directors and how best to keep them with you?

Two words of advice: focus and consideration. Consider what advice or guidance you need to advance professionally and who has the skills/contacts/experience to give you that advice. Once you have made a list of those people, think about who has the time/willingness/mindset to help you and scratch off the list anyone who lacks time/willingness/right mindset. Seek out specific advice from the people on your list. I’m highlighting the word specific as too broad of an ask, is to big of an ask (and likely will be met with silence or a no). If you know what guidance you need, know who as the experience to guide you, you can make a specific ask (“I’m dealing with a challenging employee situation involving X, Y or Z. I suspect you may have dealt with similar issues during your years as CEO. Can I seek your guidance?”). Remember to thank the person for sharing their insights and experience – and keep them informed on outcomes (did you follow their advice and if not, why not).

 

What are your thoughts on “Pay It Forward?”

This is the networking mantra which is drilled into our heads by every list of “things you need to know to be an effective networker” etc. For me, paying it forward is about consideration and responsiveness. It is realizing when to make the ask and when to say no to an ask. It is about giving thought to the other person: their communication style and preferences, as well as priorities and interests. A big “pay it forward” for me is mentoring. I got where I am professionally because of the guidance and help from others. If someone isn’t prepared to pay it forward by recognizing no-one goes it alone and reaching back to lift others up, they are not welcome in my inner network.

 

I’m new to networking, how much is too much? What should I focus on first? How should I follow-up with people I’ve just met and people I already know?

Great question(s). I was asked a number of years ago to lead a workshop for attorneys at a national law firm based in Kansas City. The firm is very community focused and the associates at the firm had taken this to heart, a little too much. They were spending a lot of time helping in the community (pro bono legal services and more), leaving little time for client work. It was get out there and network gone amuck. Take a moment to understand what you’re trying to achieve by networking, right here and right now. Your networking goals will change over time, so focus on what matters to right now and target your networking as a way to advance that goal. A networking goal may be a new job, or deepening friendships in a new community or serving the community.

I’m so glad you asked about the follow-up as it is one of the most important elements of successful networking. A note (email, handwritten or Linkedin connection request) which is a personalized “nice to meet you at [insert specifics here]” note is a highly effective and kind way to follow-up. Send a handwritten note when you’re really looking to make a strong impression (let’s all admit it, we love get snail mail as we so rarely do any more). With people I already know, I truly rely on social media platforms to stay in contact.

 

What if your targets are not part of an organization you belong to?

Appears from your question that you have the direct networking mindset vs the indirect one! It’s not just the first degree connections which count. Consider who in your network can introduce you to your targets. Are you openly sharing with people in the organization specific examples of people or companies you’d like to meet? Often it’s not who you know but who the person you know, knows. And one other thought: joining an organization is not just about meeting targets. Organizations are full of rich insights and experiences. Having a challenging time in your new role? Likely there is someone in the organization who has faced a similar challenge and can guide you. Need to hone your sales pitch? Likely someone in the organization is an expert on this and can provide you with feedback.

 

How do you make a WOW impression?

Unless you’re Miley Cyrus, what’s your need for WOW? Focus on the clientele / customer base you’re building a relationship with. What instills them with confidence and trust – as well as comfort that you’re someone they want to get to know (and give their business to)? Understanding your target audience and what is valuable to them is a WOW. The WOW for me comes in the form of the follow-up: when someone sends a note with an article or piece of information which they believe would be valuable to me based on something they heard in our conversation. The chocolate shoe from the Women In Business Committee was a WOW – someone took time to notice that I love shoes and selected a speaker gift on the basis of my personal taste. Thoughtfulness is a WOW.

 

What is the best social media platform for networking?

Depends – on what your networking goal is. Here’s how I use the Big 4 social platforms for networking:

  • Linkedin is for my professional contacts. The information I post in updates or on my Linkedin blog all relate to my professional ambitions and/or would be of information of interest or valuable to my contacts.
  • Facebook is for my friends and family (increasingly work-related contacts who I want to get to know better on a social level).
  • Twitter is my cocktail party! It is where I can dip into and out of conversations with a mix of networking connections (close friends, media, professional contacts, targets).
  • Google+ is for SEO and search. What search engine does the world use when looking for information? Google! I keep an active profile on Google+ so that I can control what is found about me when people search online.

 

What’s your guidance for networking within a profession (when you’re a service provider)?

You want to be the warmly welcomed back guest not viewed as the intruder, so cultivate a networking mindset of adding value. Think about ways you can you help the organization your targeted professionals belong to (sharing key insights, sponsoring an event, joining the organization and being an active member) and always keep building trusted relationships with these professionals as your primary goal – professionals do repeat business with people they know, like and trust!

Cover picture taken by Pavan Bahl of @OSFashion at the Bushwick Collective; Brooklyn, NYC.  Artwork by: Sexer1

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Pavan Bahl

Pavan founded Open Source Fashion (OSF) in 2011. He has since emerged as a connector between innovators working in fashion, retail, and related technologies. He's a strong advocate for startups and entrepreneurship, focusing his efforts on uncovering opportunities for the OSF membership base between New York City and Washington, DC.