Networking is an important part of any career change. Whether you are about to embark on changing your career, find a job or starting a new business, it will be difficult to achieve without some networking activity. For most people, networking can seem daunting or overwhelming. We know that we should do be doing it – but it’s easier to ignore it, delay it or bypass it altogether. Networking is the key to opening doors to potential job opportunities, finding new customers and creating support around your desired change and here we’ve got a few suggestions for you about how to get started:
What is networking?
Networking is about having conversations, building relationships creating connections with people who can help you achieve your objective, whether it be to get your new business idea off the ground by finding your first 5 customers, fulfil your desire to find a job that works around your family responsibilities or move in a different career direction. Networking isn’t direct selling.
Set your intentions
Be clear about what you want to get from networking. It is important to have a specific objective or intention for your networking activity as it is a means to an end. Here are a few suggestions that may help prompt your own specific intention:
- To find local suppliers to help you launch your business
- To get your name and brand known by a particular group of potential customers
- To make new contacts and build your confidence and knowledge within a particular profession that you want to return to.
Who should you network with?
A good place to start is with people that you already know. Start by making a list of people that may be able to help you, such as:
- Family members
- Friends and neighbours
- Previous work colleagues.
Arrange to talk, preferably in person, so that you can ask them for the help that you are looking for – most people are flattered when asked for advice or introductions and will go out of their way to be helpful – and don’t forget to reciprocate the help when you are able to.
If these contacts have been exhausted or are not providing you with progress, the next step is to widen your network and create new connections.
Find local networking groups
There are lots of networking opportunities out there and we suggest doing some research as to which groups may be most suitable for you and your networking intention. These vary from Mums groups, networking groups aimed at small businesses, events organised by professional bodies and established businesses, usually by geography.
The format for networking groups varies quite considerably – from structured meetings with a formal agenda, that is strictly followed, through to informal chats; some have learning opportunities or have a guest speaker; most networking events will be paid events and usually last a couple of hours, at differing times of the day.
Do your research and specifically take into account your availability, location and budget. Speak to the organisers beforehand and make sure you will be given a warm welcome. You may need to try out a few different groups before finding ones that you find particularly helpful for your intentions.
Going along to your first event
Make contact with the organiser before going along to your first event to make sure that they know you are going to your first networking event. Most organisers will make sure they extend a special welcome to you and introduce you to other attendees. Don’t expect to speak to everyone, but do make sure you have a conversation with a few people. Show your interest in other people and what they are doing and this is most likely to be reciprocated. Exchange business cards/contact details.
Prepare and rehearse a very brief introduction about who you are, what you are doing and what you want to get from the event (some networking meetings will give every attendee up to 1 minute to introduce themselves – this is sometimes referred to as an elevator pitch).
After the end of the event, review what you liked and didn’t like about the event, what you could do differently next time and whether it was a useful investment of your time.
Follow-up on any specific conversations, after the event, as a way of nurturing and building new relationships. This can be by phone, email, Linked-in or other social media channels. Make sure your new contacts are aware of your networking intentions and what help you are looking for. They may be able to help you, if not directly, by putting you in touch with someone they know who might be able to help.
It is most likely that you will need to attend more than one networking event to realise your networking objectives. Building new relationships takes time, effort and energy. This means turning up at the same/similar events on a regular basis and continuing to do the follow-up. Find the networking opportunities that inspire you, add value and move you closer to achieving your intentions. Don’t waste time on the ones that drain your energy or don’t fit with your values.
If you would benefit from further help with getting started or making the most of your networking activity, Career-Mums offers one-to-one coaching and Relaunch your Career workshops – find out more at www.career-mums.co.uk.