Networking. It's a buzzword. We all know someone who got a new job or client as a result of a personal contact, and it makes it seem so easy. People get fired up to grow their own professional network and envision going to one or two events and then...(enter life changing opportunity here).
The truth is, creating a network that can alter your trajectory takes time and effort. If done correctly, it is one of the best uses of your time professionally. Being intentional about creating an amazing network has been critical for me in transitioning from technology development as an electrical engineer to a venture capital associate and then starting DAF Technologies. Here are a few tips that I've learned during my journey:
1. Go Anyway
While working at NASA, I decided to pursue my passion for entrepreneurship. This was a new arena for me so I had to deliberately expand my network. I enrolled in a technology mentoring program, went to alumni events, local tech meetups, and conferences. After working a full day, I often didn't want to attend what felt like an unpaid extension of my day. However, I would go anyways and was almost always glad that I did!
2. Develop genuine relationships
Initially, your network includes people you naturally interact with during your day: co-workers, classmates, and personal friends. While this group is helpful, you need to expand beyond your immediate network of friends to include those with experience, skills, and contacts who can aid you in achieving your career or business goals.
People can sense authenticity, so sincerity is paramount. Find events you are truly interested in with folks that can assist you and let things progress naturally. Don't hand out your card to every person you see at an event. Think quality over quantity. I've had more success with making a few deep interactions at an event more than I have after a night of collecting everyone's card in the room and then not being able to remember anyone.
3. Give it time
You are ecstatic! You've just met a key thought leader in your space, then weeks pass by and you hear nothing. Don't be discouraged. Some professional relationships take off immediately, some take time, and, let's face it: some just never happen. I've had a colleague in my network reach out after two years to give me a referral for a new client or a speaking engagement. The key here is to keep expanding your network so that these unexpected connections happen more and more frequently. Even though you are eager to change the world today, sometimes you have to give your new relationships time to grow and develop.
Uncover the gold in your existing network
Meeting someone, giving them your card, and following up with an email doesn't ensure that person thinks of you when a new opportunity arises. Periodically check in, go to lunch, support their events/businesses, or drop them a note to say hi. Recently, I scheduled a catch-up lunch with someone I met in a mentorship program a couple of years ago. This meeting led to multiple clients for my business. As you amass new contacts, don't miss the gold within your existing network. Harness this value by keeping in touch.
Since you've read this article, I assume that you are excited to construct an outstanding professional network. Don't let your energy or enthusiasm for building meaningful relationships fade with time. Keep going to events, developing authentic relationships with those that can help you reach your goals, and staying in touch with your existing contacts. It's a recipe for effective networking success!
Faith Davis is the Founder, and Director of Innovation & Technology atDAF Technologies, a technology consulting firm. She leverages her experience with technology development, venture capital, and entrepreneurship to help clients solves their biggest challenges through the use of emerging technology. Faith has developed deep expertise in the areas of wireless communications, networking, mobile applications, devices, and internet companies. She has published several technical papers and has been a speaker at conferences and commencements. Davis earned a B.S., summa cum laude, from Howard University and a M.S. from Stanford University in Electrical Engineering.