I think whenever someone starts a business – whether it’s to make and sell something, provide a service, or create an empire – there’s a blend of not knowing anything about what to do and wanting to learn about the tools and principles that might work, but also having some sense of what you DON’T want to do or be. For me, I want to know about the tools and principles, but chafe at the notion that there are things I’m “supposed to” do in order to do it correctly. Correctly for who? No one knows my business and what I want it to be better than me, so how could anyone already have the formula that is best for me and my business?
I’ve started a new lunch-and-learn series, the second of which is about purposeful networking. This based primarily on my previous posts on this topic, incorporating some new ideas based on reading and reviewing my own networking approach. So far, around 100 people have attended and participated in these lunch-and-learn sessions, and the feedback has been positive. My objective is to enable others to establish for themselves a purposeful network as a lifelong resource for their career and professional development.
Scenario: you're at a conference event, and you find yourself seated next to someone you don't know. You introduce yourself and go through the usual back and forth. "What do you do?", "How long have you been with the company?", "Where did you go to school?" And then...awkward silence.
At this point, the default actions are a) turn to someone else and repeat the exercise, b) take out your phone to check your messages (or send out a distress signal), or c) pretend to see someone you do know and move. None of these are great, or effective networking.
In Part 1 of this blog series, I provided some guidance based on my own networking experience, and then provided a real-life summary of my application of purposeful networking in Part 2. Now, I’ll go through some of what NOT to do when networking.
An inspiration for this series was the book “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty”, a good book for those who need guidance or reminders about purposeful networking. The “well” is a great symbol for a network – a tool that provides you with access to a valuable resource. But like any tool, how you use it is important for making it work. Some things that can make it less than useful:
Digging your well in the wrong place: your networking efforts cannot be effective if you’re going to events or connecting with people without any basis for connection. If you want to build your network with purpose, start in places and with people where the connections will be meaningful.
Water with no well: it’s not enough just to make connections; you have to be able to maintain them, linking them in to the rest of your network. If you meet new people, then don’t follow-up with them in any meaningful way, you may find that you have met a lot of people, but don’t know any of them.
A well with no water: part of keeping your network purposeful and active is continuing to grow it and keeping people engaged with it. You might have a kick-ass website or LinkedIn page, but if no one ever connects with it, it’s not serving it’s purpose.
Water in the well but no bucket: it might be a great well, with lovely water, but if you can’t get anything out of it, it’s not very useful. How do you get things out of your network if there’s no way to interact with it? Make sure you have a good mechanism for interacting. (Aside – this is a problem with my current website platform – not a very good bucket.)
A well that you keep to yourself: as described earlier, your network needs to be able to grow, and works best when those in your network can also be part of each other’s networks. Your network needs to open and accessible to those within it, and to others who may want to connect with it. This doesn’t mean it’s completely open (you don’t want it to dry up), so having some controlled access is okay. After all, this is purposeful networking, not name collecting.
A well that’s too big (too much work to maintain) or too small (not enough water to keep you hydrated): as with other things, the Goldilocks Principle applies here – your network should be just the right size for you. As big as makes sense for your purpose, small enough that you can still maintain its purpose.
So what are some tools to build your well? I use a few social media platforms, but I try to be careful in using them for what I consider their purpose. I use Facebook to connect with friends and family; because I consider that to be more personal, I limit the number of connections I have (99 friends), and take care with my security settings to keep it that way. I use Twitter less frequently, mostly for quick distribution of things I think others might be interested in, to maintain a presence in that platform, and for some self-promotion. I also maintain two websites: robynroscoe.com is for stuff about me, and lyricmgmt.com is specifically about my company and its services; I maintain social media accounts for both of these, to extend their reach and prevent cyber-squatting.
The platform I recommend most for networking for work and career is LinkedIn. A very quick bit of online research showed me that there are few alternatives that offer the same functionality as LinkedIn (and several of the ones I tried were actually no longer active – wells that have dried up)[i]. I use LinkedIn to stay connected with professional colleagues: former and current co-workers, new connections from meetings and conferences, mentors and mentees. As such, my LinkedIn network is much larger (474 connections) than my Facebook one. I also use the platform market myself (my blog posts) and my connections (sharing and liking posts by others), which is a great way to add value to your network and give it purpose: people can see that it is valuable to be connected to you if you help get their messages out to a broader audience (your network) and if you post things that are generally of interest to your connections.
An underutilized feature of LinkedIn is the Recommendations section. You can ask people in your network to write a recommendation for you, and it will be posted on your page for others to see. Like your connections, recommendations should be real and meaningful. They should describe something real – a past project, a previous job – and be clear about the connection between you and the writer. The Skills Endorsement lists can also be useful, but can get less so if your lists are too long; again, make sure these are real and meaningful.
LinkedIn is a platform for professional interactions, so it’s not the place for recipes, quizzes, vacation photos, or political rants. While you may have close relationships with some of your LinkedIn contacts, save your more personal sharing with those people for another platform.
Whichever method or platform you choose, keep your networking purposeful. Ensure that your connections are meaningful and real. And remember: the purpose of the well is not to have a well. The purpose of the well is to have access to water when we need it.
[i] ResearchGate is an alternative specific for scientific interactions. This may be appropriate for you if you’re building up a collaborator network or seeking work or connections in academia. I don’t know much about this platform, but if science is your bag, then perhaps check this out. www.researchgate.net.
One of the steps to achieving a purposeful network is to, well, network. A common opportunity is a networking event – usually a reception of some kind, with people mingling over finger food and hovering around a cash bar. Conferences almost always have one at the beginning of the event – a welcome reception where all attendees are encouraged to congregate and mix with their colleagues and meet new people.
For those with less-than-extroverted personalities or who are newish to their field, these events are daunting – a sea of people in loose conglomerations of familiarity, a noisy and (depending on how long the event has been open) boisterous crowd, an unwelcoming assemblage of mostly unfamiliar faces, perhaps even some famous folks. But look closely and you’ll also see kindreds – individuals with a plate or a drink, shyly moving around and outside the crowds, looking just like you feel: like they’d rather be anywhere else, thinking when can they reasonably leave.
One of the elements of purposeful networking I described in Part 1 was goal setting. When attending a networking event, make a plan and have some goals. Like any good project plan, these will enable to you spend your time at the event purposefully, and to know when you’re done. I applied this approach at a recent conference.
Before arriving, I prepared by making myself knowledgeable about the who and what of the event. For the who, I reviewed the list of attendees and made note of people I knew and people that I wanted to meet (always with the “give to get” principle in mind). Then I reviewed the agenda, and noted which events I was going to be attending and who the presenters were for those. I didn’t memorize these, but I was familiar enough with them that I felt I could remember names and connections.
For the networking event (officially, the welcome reception), my goals were to meet four people:
At the welcome reception, I was able to achieve all four of these objectives. Right away, I saw someone from my “home” and said hello and chatted briefly about travel to the conference, the accommodations, the sessions we were looking forward to, the status of some work we were both involved in, other people that we were anticipating seeing at the conference. Next, I saw some of the conference organizing team talking together; I knew a few of them, but not all, so at a break in the conversation I said hello to the people I knew, and was introduced to the others. I had different connections with these people – the conference but also shared activities like teaching and mentoring – so the talk was no longer small.
After a while, I moved on to mingle. I walked through the room and around the outside of the main tables and circles. There was a woman standing on her own; she had a hand-written name tag, which I knew meant she was a late-registrant. I went over to her and initially we talked about what we both were in that moment: wallflowers. Although I’d been actively connecting for the past 20 minutes, I was taking a break and found a like-minded person. Turned out, she had only recently moved to Canada and was exploring career options in our field. As luck would have it, I’d just been speaking with someone who was looking for resources in her field, and did she want to meet them? Yes, please! We moved through the crowd to where I’d been talking with connections new and old just a few minutes previously. I introduced my new connection to the one who was looking for resources, and was clear about why I thought they’d be interested in one another. We all chatted for a while, learning about each others backgrounds, experience, needs, and opinions, and established good connections. After a while, I excused myself, and after a few more minutes of mingling…I left. Mission accomplished, in 45 minutes.
Having written all this out, I realize that it sounds cold and predatory – targeting specific types of people to check-off a to-do list, and getting out as quickly as possible. But it is only the how, not the why. Having a plan and a list of goals is a tool to accomplishing purposeful networking, but you still need to ensure that the connections you make are real and meaningful, or they really don’t “count” as connections. And the goal is NOT be to get through this as quickly as possible, but to be efficient and comfortable – while this may not be fun, it shouldn’t be tortuous.
Some other tips:
All of this is active well-digging – building and maintaining your network, keeping it active, and giving it purpose.
In my next post, I’ll give some examples of poor networking approaches, and discuss LinkedIn as a tool for networking.
Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.