Leigh Ann is no stranger to the YoPro Know blog world. After writing a wonderful – and very popular – piece last summer on "Why Your YoPro Life Is Far From The Actual Game Of Life ®", I knew we had to get her back. This time, she covers an important topic, but digs deeper than we usually get to see, on all-things networking. She truly does everything she says she does in this article – our friendship is the byproduct of networking, so we're living proof!
In years gone by, networking was what you did around the coffee maker or water cooler around 2PM as you stretched your legs after a long day in a cubicle. As times changed and businesses evolved, the masses of business professionals adopted “networking” as a means to expand their reach, meet new people, and make connections that are helpful to them both personally and professionally.
However, somewhere, something went wrong – the definition of true networking was muddled.
Instead of truly developing new relationships and getting to know others outside your circle, it became a simple LinkedIn connection or a business card exchange at an after-hours cocktail party. While these two steps are still important, they are so small and almost insignificant in the scheme of true networking.
I am an innately shy person. At some point in my childhood, my mom told me that I simply MUST talk when addressed by an adult. I didn’t like it, but I knew I had no choice but to speak up. Luckily, I was raised by parents who, while are reserved, are the most fabulous conversationalists; I learned from the best. Those who know me now probably find it hard to believe I am still shy and actively sweat and panic when walking into cocktail party with strangers. However, I have learned how to get past that fear, smile, and walk on. And now, at age 31 and having over 8 years of professional experience, I can expertly command a room. I can converse with anyone, tell a story or joke just memorable enough, and walk away with a new contact and one less business card in my bag.
To me, networking is much more than a transaction; it is the building of a relationship. You can only learn so much from a LinkedIn profile or a 2-minute chat while loading canapés on a clear plastic plate. Sure, that is the start, but the follow-up is key. Maybe in that short exchange, this person mentioned a vacation they were planning, or a school play they were helping with for their child. Take those small facts and file them away then take the biggest step of all – follow-up! Send an email or make a call. Sprinkle in the social tidbits of your previous conversation as you re-introduce yourself. Ask them more questions about themselves instead of telling them about you from the get-go. People love talking about themselves!
These days, I feel as though young professionals are simply growing their LinkedIn connections and making a few friends from another office to grab drinks with after work.
I cannot stress enough how much more it can be! My friends are constantly amazed at how many people I know in my geographic area. It’s not that I am super social (actually, I am mostly found on my couch with my dog), but I take every opportunity to meet and get to know those around me regardless of their profession, stage of life, or if I think we will be “friends.” Thus, my network is deep and wide! Need a chef, a college admission consultant, a banker, or a stylist? I have you covered! I say this not to give myself a pat on the back; I say it to show how wide your network can be! Think beyond gaining clients or meeting the VP of your dream employer. There is so much more to true networking that is honestly much more fulfilling. These new people in your network may be professionally helpful– they may not! But you may be able to connect them with your neighbor or coworker who needs their expertise. There is never a downside to knowing people far and wide.
Networking is something we discuss all the time. We talk about the importance and say we are engaging in networking opportunities, but how much are we really doing?
Are we truly developing new relationships or just clicking an “accept” button?
Are we reaching out to all different types of people or hand picking those we think can help us individually? I challenge you to reconsider who and why you are networking this year. There are over 7 billion people in the world – let’s meet a few of them!
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