Guess what. Talking to people makes good things happen.

I’ve written about this topic before but there are so many different angles to consider, one could probably write a book!

Mental note: write a book.

Networking might feel like a dirty word. What do you think of when you hear “networking”? Do you imagine a group of small business owners meeting at a hotel at 7:30am for a “working breakfast” where each attendee has 60 seconds to “sell themselves” (wait, what?) to the group? Oh, and you *have* to attend every 2 weeks or at least send someone in your place. Argh!

That’s the type of image that sticks in my mind because I’ve been to a couple of events like that back in the day. Didn’t appeal to me.

Maybe you have a more positive view of networking. Great! Or perhaps you loathe the word even more than me! We’ll work on that.

Incidentally, I got a client out of one of those networking events I went to early on. That’s not meant to happen straight away. You’re meant to build up trust, they say. Don’t expect immediate results, they say.

Well, I got an immediate result, but unfortunately they turned out to be a horrible client in the end. So it goes.

So what do I tell my students and those I advise?

LinkedIn as Networking

Even before COVID, LinkedIn had become an incredible place for me to make new connections and start conversations.

For me, “Networking” is now synonymous with LinkedIn.

Is it about blitz scaling your connection count? No.

Is it about sending indiscriminate connection requests to people asking for work? No.

Is it about connecting with people and talking to them? YES!

So what can you talk about? Well, anything. Find common ground. Are you both in the same sector? Are you looking for some advice or guidance? (Spoiler: people generally like being asked for guidance.) If you have particular experience or a skill, can you offer your help to them?

Just start a conversation. Don’t sell. Smart people can smell a desperate salesperson a mile off.

It’s important to be honest and to find your own style of networking.

Some are quite strict about only connecting with people they already know, but this doesn’t work for me because, well, I use LinkedIn to get to know new people! Also, COVID means that networking online just makes so much more sense.

I have also learned a lot from people like James “The LinkedIn Man” Potter. James popped up on my feed, commenting on a post I think, and when I requested to connect, he replied with a message asking if I would be up for a call before he accepted the connection request.

He does this for all connection requests he receives. Class act. Most people never respond! I did, though. We had a useful 15-minute chat, openly exploring any opportunities to help each other. Nothing directly came out of it, but that’s not the important point.

Through our call, connection, and then ongoing interactions through LinkedIn posts, we have a better understanding of each other and I would even say that we “know” each other now, to a certain extent.

Powerful, no?

Be helpful

As you grow your network, can you connect those you know with other people you know? Spot someone working on an interesting project and you have an ex-colleague who’s working in the same field? Point them in each others direction.

Or share a link that you found insightful. Show that you actually care about stuff.

In short, be helpful.

And guess what… being helpful really cements relationships and makes you stand out from the crowd.

When I’m teaching, I try to instill the value of networking to my students. I run a “LinkedIn for Students” workshop where I cover some of the above points and more. I can’t stress it enough.

How to introduce yourself

When making new connection requests, you can accompany the request with a short message. It is normally recommended to include a message so the other person knows why you’re reaching out.

But remember, no selling!

Here are some example messages I have sent to new connection requests who ended up being valuable members of my network who I trust and regularly interact with and/or have made introductions to other relevant people…

Hi {NAME}, looking forward to attending the CTO Craft Con in December. Saw your name on the line up and thought it would be good to connect. Many thanks, Jon

Hi {NAME}. Would be great to connect if you’d be happy to. I run the … degree apprenticeships over at Bucks New Uni (we work with … etc.). If there might be opportunities to collaborate with {COMPANY}, would be glad to chat. I’m also Banbury based! Take care.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret. Sometimes you don’t even need to introduce yourself. Sometimes when you request to connect with someone, they can immediately see your overlapping interests (whether you’re aware of them or not!) and conversations can follow.

Here are a couple of replies from those I speculatively requested to connect with, without any accompanying message. Shocking, I know!

Hi Jon, thanks for the invite to connect. I was down at the … campus last week meeting with … last week – really interesting chat about cloud computing models/AWS and potential student projects for our business {COMPANY}. I look forward to following your updates. {NAME} 🙂

Hi Jon, Great to connect! I am actually speaking with … tomorrow about a potential pilot of … at …. Would you have time for a quick 5 min phone call with me or our chief partnership officer… in the morning? Would love to ask you a few questions

This last one was a bizarre one. The timing was… well, bizarre. The universe was telling us something. Anyway, I’m now involved in the pilot programme the individual was referring too. Who knows where if may go longer-term.

Start a conversation

My recommendation to you: start connecting with people and start having conversations.

If you’re a little apprehensive about all of this, why don’t you connect with me on LinkedIn and we can have a call!

You never know what good things might happen as a result.