Millennials can't remember a world without social networks, but business networking can't be done solely from behind a phone or laptop. Millennials do engage in business networking, but they approach the task in different ways than previous generations.
They go to different kinds of events, stand out in different ways, and follow up with a boldness that comes from growing up in a world where anyone you wanted to meet was only an email or text away.
Pick the right event
Krystal Stubbendeck, 31, calls herself a "social introvert." Large affairs, teeming with people, drain her. "I'm also a little restrained, in that I think before I speak, which can sometimes make me appear quiet," she says. "For these reasons, the word 'networking' makes me cringe."
However, she realized that networking was critical for the success of her startup, Borrow Your Bump, an e-commerce platform that allows expecting mothers to borrow maternity and nursing attire during pregnancy and in the months thereafter.
When Stubbendeck relented and went to mixers at the invitation of a realtor friend, she found people were dismissing her business with phrases like, "Oh that's so cute." She realized she was at the wrong events; these were realtors and insurance agents whose business models had been around forever. This was not the right audience to appreciate a ground-breaking concept.
Cox Business did. Borrow Your Bump won Get Started Omaha 2016, a Shark Tank-like event launched by Cox Business.
"I finally met a friend who sort of forced me to get more involved in the small but growing startup community in my area," she says. "It was uncomfortable, but doing this got me accepted into an accelerator, putting me in front of numerous investors and contacts. So, in short, networking is uncomfortable, but the right type of networking challenges you in ways that help you grow personally and inevitably help your business be successful."
Establish your brand
In stark contrast, Sarah Salbu, a 28-year-old communications professional at the technology firm Mendix, considers networking a way of life - mixing and mingling at a couple of events every week around Boston. While some people go to events focused on who they want to meet and what they want to get out of the encounter, Salbu goes in with a different state of mind; she thinks about her "personal brand."
Salbu boiled down her personal brand into three words - compassionate, optimistic, and fun. By thinking of this phrase, she goes to events with self-confidence and keeps her conversations focused.
Her personal brand mantra also lets her engage with her peers, like Stubbendeck, who might be more reticent. Salbu makes a point of using body language as an asset. She positions herself so that everyone in the conversation feels engaged, and others around her feel welcomed to join in.
Jill Jacinto, 29, a millennial career expert, likes to stand out at events by creating a personal brand as well. But hers involves visual cues. When she attended networking events in New York, she noticed that 90 percent of the women were clad in all black. In contrast, Jacinto wears bright colors or an unusual piece of jewelry, which she finds to be a conversation starter at a monochrome event. And an eye-catching item of apparel can help her reconnect the dots later with someone who might have met lots of people at the event.
Roll your own event
Torrey Tayenaka has been an entrepreneur since age 15, when he launched a successful video production and online marketing company for the real estate industry. A decade later, he became president of a young networking group called Ad 2 OC for advertising professionals. "Every good thing that has happened to my businesses has come from a personal connection," he says.
In Tayenaka's view, millennial networking is less about pressing the flesh and making reciprocal deals than forging deep relationships. And so, he organizes networking events focused on millennials' desires to connect and do good.
Every fall, for example, he runs a hackathon for young marketing professionals, who come together for a worthy cause. One year, 46 volunteers broke into teams to create a user-friendly website, logo, slogan, and two commercials for a food bank. "It's a great forum for giving back, and the immersive, round-the-clock experience is also a quick way to turn strangers into friends and build industry cred," he explains.
Tayenaka was so impressed with a group of peers he met at one hackathon that they got together to hash out business ideas they could pursue together. The result was Eva, a smart shower system that won Get Started Orange County 2015.
Be bold after meeting
As Tayenaka's experience shows, millennials often bypass traditional networking venues and adopt their own approaches.
Jacinto compares networking follow-up to dating - you exchange cards and both sides wonder who should make the next move. Of course, you can take the typical online approach and email the new acquaintance an article or some information that was pertinent to your conversation.
She then nurtures this newly-minted relationship online by following up with a note saying she enjoyed meeting this person and would like to get coffee to continue the conversation. It's a relaxed, informal meeting that is "an easier ask" than a breakfast or lunch get together, she says.
In a reversal of this networking strategy, Salbu likes to make the initial connection via an online communication, and then turn that digital meeting into a face-to-face conversation.
She once saw that a journalist who she followed on Twitter was going to be in her local area. She emailed him asking if he wanted to have dinner, figuring the worst he could do was say no. She ended up dining with him and his entire family, showing that social network and face-to-face networking can go hand-in-hand.
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