Over the past number of weeks, and as I’ve continued to write this blog, friends and colleagues at all levels of business have come to me with the same two questions:
“How do I justify a meeting with someone in my network?”
“What should I do to prepare for a networking meeting?”
These are important questions. Great networkers consider their audience and value other people’s time, particularly when they’ve requested it for networking purposes. There are few better ways to demonstrate you value someone’s time than to arrive prepared.
Here are some tips on positioning and preparing for a networking meeting:
#1 ASK FOR ADVICE RATHER THAN ASKING FOR A JOB, OR ASKING FOR BUSINESS
When people contact me about potential roles on my team, or to do work for my business, it can make for a delicate situation. I don’t have the opportunity to hire team members often, and my budget for hiring new suppliers is limited. I have a few trusted suppliers with whom I work regularly, which doesn’t leave much room for other opportunities. And because I don’t like to waste people’s time, my responses to these types of requests are definitive and concise.
Conversely, when someone seeks my advice it’s a different story (and not just because they’re appealing to my vanity!). This approach frames the discussion in a way which leaves the door open to a range of possible subjects, which can include working together in some capacity.
#2 STATE YOUR INTENTIONS UP FRONT
The purpose for the meeting should not come as a surprise; start the meeting by stating your intentions. Stating your intentions is disarming and will result in a fluid and purposeful discussion. Something like, ‘Thank you for meeting with me. I know we only have 30 minutes, and here are the 3 things I want to discuss’ OR ‘I wanted to meet with you because…’ OR ‘Here’s what I was hoping to get out of our discussion.’
The other day I had a networking discussion with a woman I’d never met whose services were referred to me. She came highly recommended and I love what she does. Her name is Kamara Toffolo (www.kamaratoffolo.com), and she creates prolific resumes and LinkedIn profiles that will help people to really tell their stories and give them a competitive edge in a cluttered job market. I HAD to know more about her and her business.
What was I going to say? My instinct was that we would mutually benefit by knowing each other and yet I wasn’t sure precisely why or how - but I wanted to find out. Ultimately my objective was to request an interview for a book I’m writing about managing a successful career in a ‘reorg’ world.
Admittedly, I was nervous at the beginning of the call. And that’s coming from someone who makes networking a daily practice.
I took a deep breath. ‘Kamara, I’m really inspired by what you are doing. I’ve seen your work and I think it’s amazing. I’d love to talk to you about it and tell you a little bit about what I’m doing, in the hopes that I can interview you and include information about the services you offer in my book.’ We had a great, meaningful chat. She was lovely and not only did she kindly agree to an interview, she referred me to people in her network she thought could help. If I had waffled rather than immediately getting to the point, our chat would not have been as productive.
#3 DO YOUR HOMEWORK
If you’ve initiated a networking meeting and demonstrate that you know little or nothing about the other person’s professional background, it will reflect poorly on you. Before my discussion with Kamara, I thoroughly reviewed her LinkedIn profile and website. I hadn’t just passively read it, I really thought about it before we spoke. I could easily speak to the specifics of her brand and her work. My preparation demonstrated that this was not some idle discussion; I truly admired her and her work, and the conversation had meaning to me. The research also provided me with added confidence going into the discussion.
The day before a networking meeting you have requested, have a look at the individual’s website to note any recent developments. Review their LinkedIn profile. There’s no need to be anonymous about it - it will impress them to see that you’ve looked them up if they happen to notice. LinkedIn has a feature which allows you to view someone’s recent activity, allowing you to see what they’ve been doing, writing, commenting on. Take advantage of this feature.
Look out for commonalities you may share - did you study similar disciplines at school, work for the same employer, go to the same school? Do you have common business contacts? If you find details that connect you, work these connections into the discussion.
My boyfriend is a fantastic listener. People routinely comment on the quality of his listening skills. He genuinely cares about people and his attentiveness is a manifestation of his sincerity. Sadly, one of the reasons his listening skills stand out is because being a truly good listener is such a rare quality.
One way to prepare for a networking meeting, as strange as it may seem, is to think about how you are going to listen before the meeting. Remind yourself before the discussion that you will actively listen for the purpose of listening, not just as a means to springboard yourself to your next comment. Ask follow-up questions based on what the person has said, and take notes if appropriate. Be present and focused. Commit to doing more listening than speaking. It goes without saying that your mobile device should be turned off and tucked away.
#5 CONSIDER WHAT YOU HAVE TO GIVE
It shouldn’t matter if you’re a college student meeting an EVP, or you’re unemployed and meeting an old friend whose career is thriving. You always have something to give. You may have read a great article on a topic of interest that you can share, you may know how to use an app they are struggling to master. Maybe you have some tips for house-training their new puppy. Regardless - as much as you may want to get something out of the meeting, focus equally on what you have to give.
Offering your help to others accomplishes two things. For one, it establishes you as a ‘giver’ and not simply a ‘taker’, opening the door to meaningful follow-up interaction. Building a strong network is not about one interaction where you have a call or meet once to take something; it’s a long-term, sustainable relationship of mutual benefit. It’s a space where you help and inspire people, and hopefully, in turn they help and inspire you. Naturally, people tend not to remain a part of relationships that hold no meaning or benefit for them.
Hope you’ve enjoyed these networking posts, folks - they’re excerpted pieces from my new book which will be released on July 10, 2018. In the months leading up to that date, I’ll be sharing more on the topic of managing a successful career in a ‘reorg’ culture.
Many more tips and tricks to come. Stay tuned!!
Amy Davies is Founding Partner of the Firefly Group of Companies. She is a writer, professional speaker, insights expert and corporate trainer. Amy lives in Toronto, Canada with her children and partner.