Young Money: Build your professional network the old-fashioned way
blog by Caitlin Campbell McNulty • February 01, 2012 @ 11:04am
Social media has revolutionized the way we stay in contact with friends, family, co-workers and clients. But maintaining a professional network takes more than just making sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date. Even in the hyperdigital age, the old adage still rings true—people like to do business with people they know. Building and growing your network is more than just collecting a pile of business cards or joining Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn and hoping business comes your way.
Many people in my generation (aka the millennials) seem to have lost the fine art of networking. To set the record straight, Facebook is not networking! Networking is about the human connection. Do you make people feel comfortable? Can they trust you? Are you someone they would recommend to their friends and family? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you’re halfway there.
Think of networking as a way to build a relationship. The more familiar you are with a person and what they do, the more likely you are to reach out to them for your own personal use. The same is true in reverse. People need to trust those select few individuals they chose to give their business to. You don’t have to kill them with your elevator pitch and life story in the first 30 seconds. Rather, spend time getting to know a person and finding ways that you and your business can help benefit them. The connections you are making are all about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.
A lot of young professionals feel a tremendous amount of pressure when it comes to networking. There’s no doubt—it can be intimidating to walk into a room and feel as though everyone knows each other already. It’s also easy to attend events with a group of friends and stay with those who you already feel comfortable around.
Unfortunately, that’s not the point of attending these types of events. You should always arrive with a goal. Whether it’s to make one new contact or ten, if you have a specific goal in mind, you’re much more likely to put yourself out there and work a room.
Professional organizations, such as the young CPA network, or the Young Lawyers Committee, are great ways to get your feet wet in the networking game. Everyone there shares a common background, making it much easier to start and carry on a conversation. Chances are you may know the same people or find another shared connection. Practice with a group you feel comfortable in so when you find yourself in a new situation you can be confident and proactive.
Networking simply means building a circle of connections and you never know when they may pay off. The connections you make today could result in a new big contract for your company, a promotion at work, or even meeting the person you need to get you to the next step in your career. Make sure your first impression is your best impression with a new contact.
Finally, don’t be discouraged if you attend three dozen networking events in a month and don’t see immediate results. Remember: you are making a business connection that takes time to build and nurture. Acquaintances may not be able to use your services right away, but might need you in three months. Make sure you are continuing to grow and build off of your initial contact so you can be the first person who springs to mind when they need a widget.
Photo from Flickr / jwyg.