Over the past few months, I’ve started on a path to intentionally focus on personal and professional development. Much of my time has been spent reflecting on the past five plus years at my current job, and lessons learned. Developing an honest evaluation if there were things I would have done differently, to make myself better today than I am now.
I am fortunate: through all of this self reflection, there is not much I would change if I were given a second chance. Most of my mistakes have been valuable learning experiences, teaching lessons which have helped me become a better version of myself today. Sincerely, I don’t have “regrets.” But…there is one thing that I definitely would have done differently: Networking.
HOW NOT TO NETWORK
Early in my career, I would try to go to at least one networking event a month in Chicago. But I stopped going because I struggled to find value, and started feeling like I was wasting my time. The question though, is why? Why was it so hard to find value associated with getting out and meeting people? I believe the answer to that question is actually very simple. My approach and mindset were all wrong.
Networking was simply a business checkbox for me to complete, and often the motivation behind going was to try and drum up sales. There is nothing wrong with hoping to create business while networking, but I am now convinced this approach was backwards from what I should have done. Rather than trying to push a sale, my goal should have been to meet people, build relationships, and then trust that sales opportunities would naturally open up.
My strategy was usually to aimlessly wander around (super productive right?), strike up conversations with people, and eventually get to the “so what do you do?” conversation, and try to evaluate if there was an opportunity for a sale. Once in a while, I would meet someone and follow up, and maybe even grab coffee or lunch; but actual networking was typically a secondary thought revolving around the concept of a sale. There is an underlying theme here which needs to be exposed: Failed networking comes from selfish behavior. If you are only focused on the benefit of networking in a monetary or career improvement standpoint, you are missing the point. I missed the point.
WHY NETWORKING MATTERS
If you are early in your career, my advice would be: network, network, network… and network some more. With the incredible amount of our daily lives shared on social media, getting out into the world and meeting people, whether it is digitally or in person, it still a must. And it’s easier than ever.
For example, if you go to a networking event and shake my hand, you should send me a LinkedIn invitation right away and connect with me. Now, you can follow my career and interests, and who knows what opportunities that might bring for our relationship down the road! Observe what type of posts I have, who I have in my network, etc. You never know when a connection at a networking event might present a job posting you are interested in, or if there is some other need I have you can fulfill.
Career development and progress will happen partially through the relationships you develop. Be willing to take the time and build real relationships. Lastly, remember that relationships are a two-way street. In their greatest application, relationships are a mutually beneficial collaboration of knowledge between two individuals. Make sure you do not make the act of getting to know someone simply about what you can gain, or get out of them.
HOW I APPROACH NETWORKING TODAY
The only way to improve a bad behavior is to change it. Here’s how am I changing my networking approach to make it valuable to both myself and those around me.
- Meet with People: I will be starting a new role within my organization during the middle of 2018. In preparation, I’ve been arranging meetings with people who can help me learn. One of the first times I did this was to reach out to a Director of Sales for a large tech company in Chicago, who I met earlier in the year. He is in a similar role but has much more experience than I do, and is part of a much larger organization. My request (via LinkedIn) was to buy him a cup of coffee or lunch, so I could ask questions. Absolutely no agenda or focus towards selling. Increasing knowledge was the end goal, and I went to the meeting with a literal list of questions, and two ears ready to listen. Several benefits came out of the meeting. The first is that I was able to start building an actual, real relationship within my network. The second is that my knowledge increased, which will help me better execute in both my current and new role.
- Be more intentional on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram LinkedIn, and Youtube:
- Post original content more frequently
- Message new contacts where I might be able to add value, and make myself available
- Comment on others content with actual responses. Not simply a thumbs up or an emoji hand clap
- Start proactively networking with groups and individuals in Sydney, Australia, where my new position is located.
- Become a resource: In the last five years while working at ActiveCampaign I’ve learned a ton about digital marketing. I started with absolutely nothing in regards to industry or product knowledge, and now have a serious amount that very rarely gets put to use outside of my day-to-day work. So, what if I simply offer to help those around me to make themselves better? Sure, there are a lot of areas in digital marketing I am still learning myself (e.g. how to build a website), but if I know something I can share, my belief is that others can take what I say, and either use or discard it, and make a better-informed decision. Just like the Director of Sales mentioned above agreed to help me, I want to be a similar resource for others.
So to actually do this, if you would be interested in getting together, or having me help you develop your career or business, please click on the button below and fill out the form.I’ll reach out to see if I can assist you in some way. Let’s network for real.