Years ago, a friend of mine called me a “master networker”. I laughed because she was not far from the truth. I could be one. I talk to strangers and get to know them anywhere. I am a big people person and in reality, years ago, I was even more so. Now, I have slowed my networking a bit; not because I don’t have energy or the interest in it; more because I have become more strategic about how I do it. My networking revolves around 3 simple ideas: the Old fashion still works; Strategic Tactics is about how and when, and critical to me, how user friendly can I make it for myself to actually do it.
Too many people are talking and spending time using Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Yes, they work for some networking, but most people are not using the old-fashion phone, meeting people and targeted events. I use the phone like it is a good friend and call people I know who know other people I am looking to contact. I find the simple notion of a conversation is just the beginning. Most importantly, it adds the personal touch and quite frankly, a lot of people like to talk. With my conversations, I actually get more information. The Old school phone is a gem. And so many of us are really not using the phones like we used to. It’s our back seat driver. We have taken the front seat and not paying attention to what works.
Another old-fashion idea is your rolodex, some of mine is on my Linkedin, and the rest is my phone and the real antique rolodex I still keep. I call all of these three items my phone book, as it organizes people I am looking to network with in the present and future. I look through it at least once a week when I am thinking about a project, when I am working on a project and when I have finished a project. My phone book people are connected to what I will call my “information blasts” – the emails I send out to the list, the postings I make on Facebook and Twitter, the newsletter I write and send out occasionally, the “keeping in” touch note and the “checking in” I do with them to see what they are working on.
Networking is about giving and taking. So many people only work on the take button. Like my Facebook postings, I use my rolodex as a marketing tool to reach out and network. Through it, I inform my digital and physical network not only what I am doing but ask them what they are doing. My best one some days is really Linkedin as the contacts I am looking to develop and have developed there know that it is a business platform so they pay attention more.
I will be frank with you, I do not like events, hardly go to them anymore as they remind me of auditions. I have created my own events and find that they actually work on small sizes. One of my friends I met at an event is Tania Molina. I met her through a Meet-up group I organized for Prospect Heights area so many years ago. We have remained friends, constantly talk, Facebook, go out to hang and worked on the AfroLatino Festival of New York. The meeting was strategic and vital. Who knew that years later we would not only remain friends but worked on a project with each other. Networking is about old and new ways of communicating and interacting. Designers, retailers and entrepreneurs are abandoning their old ways but some of those ways actually work better than the new ways.
Strategy is about how and when, so it always amazes me that people tell me they are looking to network and make connections with people in their industry and outside their industry. My first set of questions: What do you plan to do? When and where? I was recently speaking to a graphic designer whose firm just folded after 50 years in business working on film and visual effects and he was unsure what to do. I look at him and said simply, have you thought about hanging out in Dumbo at the bars to meet people in your industry? Or have you gone into any of the buildings to see what companies are there? He looked back at me and said, I will try these tactics. I have been home sending resumes.
People hire people who are tactically smart. I know, I was hired at Parsons because of this reason: I placed my resume in the “digital” hands of a person teaching there who forwarded it to my former boss. Thus, I became his Associate Chair. And my networking took place via the old Blackarts yahoo group. Smart tactic. I am still today thankful to the designer and artist who forwarded that resume. And I am still a member of that group. It’s been 13 years since.
Some people go to their industry events. I smile a lot when I hear about this old boring way of networking. My question to them is simple: Who actually attends these events? People that hire people in your industry or mostly your peers. Another question I always ask: wouldn’t it be better to network in another industry that can hire you for the skills you possess. Life in networking is about strategic thinking. Sometimes it is best to plan what you are going to do and not follow the Joneses. Tactical decisions get you further.
My networking goal is to make the way I do it user friendly, not just to me but to those I meet. I do not know how many times I give out cards or receive cards, but these days I am extremely selective about who I hand my card to and who I take cards from. In my younger days, I took a lot of cards and never used them. What a waste of time. User friendly networking is purposeful. It is strategic and tactic. It eliminates waste and targets goals that you set for events and meetings.
Most people come to events with limited business cards. Smart ones come with about 10-15. Simply, in a room of 100, there are really about 10-15people’s card you need to take home and give cards to. When I used to work in architecture, I went to other industry events and would always leave with the cards of pr and marketing people, executives and hr people. I kept in contact with them after the events and got to know more about doctors, lawyers and accountants. At that time, I was strategically looking to set up a practice so I knew that there were the people who would hire me if I did set up the practice.
Networking is not a new concept, nor is it an old dying act. It needs creative people to revive it and use it smartly. How do you meet a person on the other side of the room if you do not know them? If you are creative you will find a way to do it. So, as you continue to do Facebook and Twitter, remember meeting real people will be much faster and beneficial. Offline still works.
My next blog will deal with Short and Long Term Planning Strategies, join me next week as I reveal some of the best kept secrets for designers, retailers and entrepreneurs. Interested in thinking and changing your business, I am available for business coaching at firstname.lastname@example.org