OK. Tonight I am going to cover a topic that an awful lot of people still struggle to grasp. I don’t blame them, but I really want them to figure it out. It is in some ways really simple. And other ways painfully difficult.
The subject is networking. Clearly this is a topic covered by many-a-blogger so I hope this short case study knocks a hole in the wall for you and lets some light in. I’ll try to keep it painless.
I had an experience a few weeks ago with someone I knew from earlier in my career. We briefly worked at the same company in the early 1990′s. But we hadn’t spoken since then. So why was this experience a good one and what specifically happened between us that left me with such a good impression?
1. I’ll call her Staci because that’s her name. Only open kimonos here . . .
2. Staci re-connected with me via Linkedin. Although we were not connected there yet, she found me and sent a personal and friendly note asking if I would meet with her. Since she sent a personal and friendly note, I am now instantly open to hear what Staci has to say. She took the time to make me feel important by spending a few extra minutes on that note.
3. We met at a coffee shop near my house. Staci could have suggested that we meet in the middle (she lives in Los Angeles and I am in Orange County). Her decision to drive to me shows a respect for my time. Let’s face it, she made it really easy for me to say yes.
4. She offered to buy my cup of coffee. Not everybody does this – in fact, most don’t. Those who do, again, send a clear message of appreciation. It doesn’t matter if that message has a value of $2.50. It still matters. A few months ago I met with a recruiter and got some advice on this blog. While that recruiter wouldn’t let me buy breakfast that day, you better believe she got a gift card from me a few days after our meeting!
5. Providing some early value is critical. Staci did this by bringing a CD filled with recruiter names and company lists that she thought I could use. I felt appreciated and thankful for the effort on her part.
6. During our meeting, I gave her everything I could including resume feedback, an introduction to the free downloads on Spin Strategy, etc. I told her everything I knew about the market for jobs down here and finished our meeting absolutely spent. But happy that I could help and glad that we had connected.
Now it could have ended there (as most networking relationships do). But here’s how Staci extended our relationship and made me want to stay involved in her search . . .
7. At the end of our chat, she said those magic words: “Tim, how can I help you?”. I’ve learned to always have an answer for this one. I told her that if she knew of anyone who might be helped by the Spin Strategy blog or website to please send a note or let me know. Simple, right?
Over the next week, Staci reinforced her interest in building a great relationship.
8. She introduced me (and Spin Strategy) to two people who run an outplacement company in Los Angeles. These are great targets for my content as they are always looking for new ideas to help their job seeker clients. And I love new ideas!
In between here, I sent her leads on two great career coaches – something she mentioned during our meeting as an interest area.
9. She sent me contact information for the head of her graduate university’s alumni career center. Again, a place where potentially I can gain additional exposure for Spin Strategy.
10. She attended a networking group presentation of mine and made sure to grab me before and after to re-connect. She also sent me a note after to tell me how much she enjoyed it.
11. She commented on a blog post and offered some very relevant thoughts on the topic. As a blogger, comments are an important part of interacting with readers and they also help support better search engine results by showing the value of your blog to the community. She helped me.
Now, every networking relationship is different. Clearly the stars aligned a bit to allow for Staci and I to meet and work well together. But you can implement a version of every one of these ideas. Yes you can.
A couple of key things to notice here:
Staci made a pretty big and broad effort to say thanks to me – before, during and after our meeting. Most important, I think, was her post-meeting effort. She went out of her way to help me. Based specifically on my answer to her question – remember those magic words? While I will remember her gracious offer to meet me near my home and buy the coffee, I will appreciate her referrals as those that added long-term value and addressed something that is really important to me. That is, the opportunity to increase awareness of this concept which I’ve worked so hard to create.
She maintained contact for a few weeks – cementing her search objectives in my mind. Instead of a quick thanks and monthly e-mail follow-ups, Staci delivered value in multiple steps. As a marketer, she clearly understands reach and frequency!
Staci has left me feeling like I got the better end of the deal. Why does that matter? It matters because her need is still in my head. I feel like I owe her a referral or a lead to balance out our networking relationship. Not literally, but I do want to help and she has given me 11 reasons to be looking out for her.
Networking is hard work. Because you have to prepare and execute a plan with each person. You have to know what to ask for and what to provide in return.
And you also have to know when and where to put in the bigger efforts. Had I been a junior IT professional, perhaps Staci would have focused her energies elsewhere. But I am a good contact for Staci (as she is for me) because we are in the same industry and in the same function.
It’s not always as simple as a coffee and a thank you.
But it’s a start!
Tim Tyrell-Smith is a 20-year veteran consumer packaged goods marketer and the author of Spin Strategy™ – Tools for Intelligent Job Search. His blog covers the strategy and psychology of successful job search. You can also visit the website, join the Linkedin group and follow Tim on Twitter @SpinStrategy.