Organizations like the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce provide networking opportunities for their members to help build the “know, like, and trust” factor essential for a business’s sustainability and success. It’s also the best way to pave your path to leadership and career opportunities. But networking gets a bad rap. It can feel impersonal, and for some people, it represents nothing more than the exchange of business cards. For me, networking has been the beginning of many long-term meaningful relationships in my professional life. As a leadership coach for women, I see so many unrealized opportunities and also common mistakes with networking. These myths represent what you might be getting wrong about networking:
It only happens outside of your organization.
We often fail to see the opportunity to network with the folks down the hall or at another branch of our business. You may think you know everyone at your company, but do you really know them? Even vendors or community partners can be connections. Building relationships and alliances across departments is a great way to learn more about your organization, which can also result in partnerships, collaboration, promotable assignments, and career opportunities. To get started, identify one person you want to learn more about and plan to chat with them, buy them a cup of coffee, or ask them to lunch. No agenda – just get to know them better and see where your interests overlap.
It is only to find clients.
If you go into networking with the sole focus of meeting and pitching potential clients, you will often be disappointed. Consider some of the categories beyond clients that new contacts will fit into:
- Superfan: Someone who thinks what you’re doing is great and will spread your name around.
- Connector: Someone directly connected to people who need your services and will provide introductions.
- Mentor: Someone willing to share their knowledge and expertise with you.
Be diligent about categorizing people – formally or informally. Each of these relationships can lead to something else, but you have to recognize it for what it is and cultivate it accordingly.
It only happens at ”networking events.”
It is exhausting to always be in “networking mode,” but around every corner are opportunities to talk about your work. Your elevator pitch exists for this reason. Aside from explaining what you do, you should be prepared to explain your ideal client. This helps people unfamiliar with your work understand who you want to connect with if it’s not them. Recently, I was making a deposit at the bank and went in and spoke with a teller. She saw the name of my business (Pleasantly Aggressive) and got curious about what I did. We chatted, I shared my social media with her, and now I have a new follower.
NOT introducing yourself to major players.
Have you been guilty of fangirling over a speaker, author, or executive you see at a conference or event? So why not walk up and introduce yourself? Pass them your card, compliment them (say something specific about their speech or work or how it impacts you), and suggest how you might be able to work together. This feels risky, but what have you got to lose? You have opened the door to follow-up through email or LinkedIn. They never respond or reach out? Oh well. This is a risk where there is no downside.
While we’d like to think we can do it all by ourselves, let’s be real. We need to create a network around us of colleagues, influencers, and mentors to achieve success in our current roles and when reaching for that next rung on the ladder. Rethink your goals and expectations while making new contacts to maximize your effort and manage expectations. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Thought Leader: Rebecca Malotke-Meslin leadership coach, consultant, podcast host, and keynote speaker. She is the owner of Pleasantly Aggressive Coaching and Consulting, where she empowers women working in independent schools to confidently own their leadership.
(This is a paid advertising opportunity provided by the NACC. Thought Leader Blogs are shared on NACC social media channels as well. Contact us to book your Thought Leader Blog.)