In the IT world, particularly on the service delivery side where up until two years ago I spent most of my career, networking usually involves something related to backend technology and infrastructure. To practically everyone else networking means something entirely different, and to be completely honest, something I dreaded.
I felt out of place attending any type of networking event, and I thought it would be a huge struggle when I switched gears in my career to become a Principal Consultant. Being a consultant requires a few key personality traits, and being able to establish relationships and build trust with our clients is one of the most important. So, it’s only natural that part of my professional development was to join a business group and get involved with our community.
After being in this role for two years and experiencing what networking as to offer, I can honestly say that attending events and business group meetings has probably made the biggest impact for me professionally. Seems a bit of an extreme statement, right? Well, there’s a couple of reasons why I feel so strongly about the impact business networking is having on my career as Principal Consultant:
- It takes me out of my comfort zone. We often practice our elevator pitches and role play different scenarios during our team meetings at Lloyd, but it’s definitely a different experience when you’re putting these things to practice with people who aren’t your teammates – especially when it’s people you’re meeting for the first time. When I first started networking I was immediately put into situations where I was the sole representative of my firm and expected to speak about our services. This was difficult at first, but the more experience I have the better I become.
- I am constantly building connections and learning about other industries. Through networking events and meetings, I was and continue to be introduced to so many talented and successful professionals that became resources for me and Lloyd. Accountants, Lawyers, Web Developers – I’ve had the chance to develop personal and business relationships with a great group of people, in all different kinds of fields.
- It makes me a better consultant. The more experience I have networking and making connections, the more comfortable and confident I become in my career when speaking with clients, prospects and various executives. I have become a better speaker and have had ample opportunity to work on my presentation skills, which are both extremely valuable as a consultant. In addition, by connecting with individuals within the same industries as my clients, I get the chance to further my knowledge in areas that are most important for them.
Looking to Make Connections? Find What Works Best for You
To put it plain and simple: networking takes practice. Just like any skill you’ve developed during your life, you need to put time into perfecting your techniques and discover what works best for you. Here are some tips on how to jump start your networking hobby and staying on track.
- Attend an Event with Co-Workers. The goal of any networking event is to start and build new relationships, so it may seem counterintuitive to attend events with others. But having a familiar face there can help calm your nerves and add to any conversation you’re brought into. Consider asking someone who has experience at events if you can tag along, or bring someone who isn’t necessarily looking to make the same type of connections as you. This way you’re not just speaking to each other during the entire event.
- Join a Business Group. Business groups can be a great alternative to the sporadic networking event. They typically operate on a set schedule and involve members from different verticals, so you’re not competing with another lawyer, agency, financial advisor, etc. for a referral.
I joined my BNI business group in October of 2015, and I’ve cultivated a lot of business and personal relationships from it. Every week I have the opportunity to speak to a room of professionals outside of clients and my coworkers and help many individuals find services or build connections of their own.
- Be Committed. If you want to be great at networking, you need to put effort into building your new relationships. Have one on one meetings, coffee, and visit offices to learn more about their businesses. Show your contacts that you are interested in learning about their business so you can build that trust and relationship. Eventually, this effort will most definitely lead to referral sources and power spheres for new business.
If anyone is interested in learning more about taking first steps in business networking, joining a business group, or attending one of my BNI meetings as a guest, I would love the opportunity to share my experiences and allow you to see firsthand how great these types of events can be.