Networking is one way to dig for the gold. It is not what you know but who you know that is the foundation of success. Many higher level jobs come through leads from people you know. Where to network? If you are looking for a job and are willing to move, sites like Linkedin.com are good. If you don’t want to relocate, think more face-to-face. I choose Linkedin.com because I want to change jobs and relocate so the broad scope fits my need well. Linkedin.com will work well if you are a professional of any stripe, but some, like consultants and writers may fit a little better with the benefits of Linkedin.
Even if you are stationary networking can add great value. If you are a senior individual in a local company networking can bring new suppliers, new clients, new methods, new talent wanting to move into your area and maybe your company and the list goes on and on.
What about the internal accountant who has a job and does not want to move? This person may network as a plan B in case there are rightsizings, mergers, staff optimizing or some other occurrence that was not expected.
I choose Linkedin.com which could be described as a professional version of Facebook.com. The first rule on Linkedin.com is to connect with people you know. The first thing you should do is ignore that rule. Networking is about meeting people you don’t know. I followed Linkedin’s advice for 2 years. I did not know much about networking or LinkedIn and invited vendors and coworkers who knew less than I and were less computer literate: the blind leading the blind. They were logged into Linkedin infrequently making online networking not work. I had a group of about 100 that had very little value to me or to them.
One day I discovered an open network group called “Invites Welcome.” The group description says that group members are looking to add connection and expand their networks. I started inviting members of this group. My Linkedin experience brightened because now I added people to my network who were frequently on Linkedin, actively networked and could help me. I learned a lot reviewing their profiles that I adopted in my profile, and they helped me and shared information. Inviting open networkers and then becoming one was my breakthrough in Linkedin.
You can prospect or network on linkedin just like you can face-to-face. Prospecting is finding a person who could buy your product, service or give you a job lead and then going right after them with the presentation or request. It will not surprise you that this throws a mental penalty flag and triggers defenses. Keith Ferrazzi in his book Never Eat Alone says, “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” The best Linkedin networkers I have met agree with this “paying forward” idea.
Now you know why, the question shifts to how. Linkedin does not want its members spammed and they have set in place a number of rules and guides to prevent it. You need to know the rules so you can work with them. Spam on Linkedin in its most basic form would be mass unwanted invitations that could flood a users inbox and effectively shut you down. Linkedin gives you a tool to fight back and that is the “In don’t Know You” (IDK) button. If about 6 of your invitations gets IDKed you are required to have the person’s email address as part of the invitationa very severe restriction. So, now you know how Linkedin handles spam invites, the question reappears, how do you build a network.
I will give you the basics of Linkedin networking here that will get you started on the right path.
First, fill out your profile 100%. Linked in has a reminder box on your home page to help. Do this within the first two weeks.
Second, become an open networker. State it in your profile and include your email so people can easily invite you into their network. Join the group invites welcome and look at what members are doing. Ask for advice on how to build a network. You will find people on Linkedin very helpful.
Third, Join three other groups that are interesting to you and look at them three times a week minimum. Post questions. Answer questions. As you exchange information with others you will find people you can invite to your network.
Fourth, ask one question and answer ten questions in Linkedin Answers each week. There is a wealth of knowledge and as you exchange knowledge and information with others you will find people to connect with. Wondering how to best add connections: ask that question. Wondering how to use a feature on Linkedin: ask that question. Wondering which is the best printer for heavy duty office use: ask that question. 27 million Linkedin members are waiting to answer.
Fifth, invite others to your network. You want to avoid the IDK, but don’t be overly concerned getting 6 and restricted will not end your networking life. Myself and many others have continued on our way under this restriction, but if I can help you avoid it that is great. Think about the other person. Try to see this from the other person’s point of view. They are wondering, “What is in it for me? I am busy. Is it worth my time?” Be polite. NEVER send an invitation with the standard wordingit screams that you did not take the time to find something in common and also are too lazy to personalize the invitation.
Personalize the invitation by focusing on what you have in common. If their friend or a mutual friend passed their name to you that is common ground: mention it. Look and see if you are members of the same Linkedin groups. Groups are listed in a person’s profile. Are you in the same field? Did you go to the same school? From the same town? Have the same professional certifications? Belong to the same professional organizations?
Even safer is to ask if they mind if you send them an invite, but still personalize the invitation!
“The successful networkers I know, the ones receiving tons of referrals and feeling truly happy about themselves, continually put the other person’s needs ahead of their own. ” ~ Bob Burg If you are willing to actually help if asked, put something like, “How can I help you in 2009?” That gets right to the heart of the other person’s question of what is in it for me? Why should I connect?
Sixth, follow-up! “Poverty, I realized, wasn’t only a lack of financial resources; it was isolation from the kind of people that could help you make more of yourself.” Says Keith Ferrazzi in Never Eat Alone Making first contact is not networking, but the first step. Networking is about building relationships for the future. It is like planting a garden: the first contact is planting the seed, helping the connection with questions & sending possible connections is the watering and harvesting is when they help you when you need it. Just like planting a garden, some seeds don’t grow and other produce a lot and you cannot tell which seed is which when it is in your hand before planting.
Seven, work. You need to spend 4 hours a week to build a thriving network. It can be all at once on Thursday morning, or spread out in 10 minutes blocks over the whole week, but you have to log in and be there to help others, receive and issue invites. You make this fun. You choose groups and connections you enjoy and build relationships with people you want to connect with.
Eight, Explore, be creative, enjoy the wonderful adventure. These are guidelines not rules. Adjust the networking process to fit your style.
Linkedin.com is a great place to build valued relationships. Enjoy the journey to great opportunities.