The term “strategic networking” made me shiver for a long time! I associated it with building and maintaining contacts solely because I wanted something from them, because I wanted them to be useful to me. That felt wrong.
Today I understand strategic networking differently, namely in a targeted and efficient way. When I talk about networking in talks or workshops, the most common concern people have is that it takes up too much time in an already busy day. Yes, you have to invest time in building a network. But if the network is in place, it will save you a lot of time. To make the journey easier, I would like to present some approaches that can make the build-up more focused and efficient.
Why build a network?
It is helpful to ask yourself a few questions at the beginning: What could a network help me with? What issues am I currently working on? What do I want to achieve? What do I want to learn?
Examples of goals could be:
- I want to learn more about AI.
- I want to go on holiday to Spain by train instead of by plane.
- I want to buy a cargo bike.
- I want to find a job
I have deliberately chosen the example goals to be very different. Professional and private. Learning, leisure, buying and working. They all have one thing in common: I can do my own research or ask people who know about it.
The challenge in research is to generate the right Google results and find a suitable book, for example. Alternatively, I could also ask people who are also interested in the topic and perhaps even already have experience that can help me further.
The examples mentioned were or are goals that I am pursuing or have pursued. I have received the following tips and information from my network:
- Recommendations for online courses and books on AI,
- tips and tricks on how to book a rail journey through Europe, because this is not possible via the rail portal,
- the possibility to test drive several cargo bikes and insights into different decision criteria,
- forwarding of job advertisements, offers for role plays for job interviews and mediation of contacts.
Nice to have people in your network to help with questions or challenges, isn’t it?
Save time and use added value
When building networks, there is always the question of who you want to network with. Of course, you can be open to any kind of contacts and include many people in your network, because you never know what common ground will emerge and how inspiring the exchange can be. However, I recommend you take a more focused approach for two reasons:
- If you already feel that you don’t have that much time, then a targeted approach will save you time. Furthermore, if you feel like it and have the capacity, you can always expand your network “at will”.
- It takes added value for you to make time for an activity when you have a busy schedule, otherwise you won’t make the time. Networking gets immediate added value when you use it to pursue an important goal. But the added value only happens when you come into contact with the right people who can also help you.
How do I find the right people?
If you already have a network (at least a small one), you can already draw on your network for this question. This is how I experienced one of the best privately organised AI workshops. Through this workshop, I understood the basic principles beyond code and mathematics in an unforgettably fun evening! Goal achieved!
Also, there is the option of asking your social media network directly if anyone knows anyone and possibly making a contact. To open up a little sidebar: this is THE reason why I use social media so actively and regularly. I have now met so many exciting people who post great content that helps me or is just relevant to my topics. To build a helpful network, it’s ideal. I don’t have to make appointments to talk on the phone, but interact when I have time and feel like it. Through the algorithms, my contacts’ activities are shown to me and my activities are shown to my contacts’ contacts and so my network grows extremely quickly.
If you don’t have a network yet, only good old research will help. It should be noted, however, that everyone knows someone they can talk to. Which conferences are there? Which professional portals? Which associations? And of course you can also search the social media for hashtags.
How do I get in touch?
At the beginning of this blog post, I already wrote that it doesn’t feel right for me to build up a network just so that people can help me or offer me something. “Give and take” is a principle that also fits well when building a network.
Basically, I distinguish between two approaches:
- If I receive a warm contact from someone who is well-disposed towards me, a direct approach can be made. However, here too, I wouldn’t barge in, but rather formulate my request in such a way that I am interested in topic xy and ask whether the person has the time and inclination for an exchange with me. During the conversation, it will quickly become clear whether the new contact is also willing to share tips with me or even help me.
- If the person I’m interested in doesn’t even know that I exist and I’m starting from scratch, I first make a contribution myself. So I find out what the person is interested in and see if I can offer something: an event tip, a book recommendation, a website. This works both analogue and digital. If I look at the participants of a conference beforehand and do a little research, I can approach them specifically and start a conversation and make my contribution at the right moment. In the area of social media, it can be even easier, because here, in principle, all I need to do first is to like a post by the person and comment on it if necessary.
As a supplement, I would like to add that it is possible to interact with interesting people relatively quickly through the ease of contact on social media. Moreover, a digital connection to a person can be a very good preparation for an analogue meeting, especially since the people involved already “know” each other and have a common topic.
Keep in touch
Do you know the situation where you suddenly think of a person you haven’t thought of in a long time? Contacts fall asleep and that’s okay. However, if you want to prevent such a situation and actively keep in touch with relevant people, then I recommend a thought aid:
Make a list of the ten most relevant people for a specific topic. If necessary, store important information such as birthday, preferences, the date of the last contact and what it was about. Think about the time intervals at which you would like to contact this person and create a reminder in the calendar. Here, of course, it is also important that the relationship is in the foreground: “Hey we haven’t spoken in a while. How are you? Do you want to have a coffee together again sometime?”
For people who like to learn and develop through exchanges with other people, but also for the more shy and/or introverted, networking can be very useful. A strategic approach to building your network will help you save time, be more efficient and get where you want to go faster.
When building and designing a network, make sure it suits you. For example, I don’t like to seek contact with strangers at events or simply call people. Therefore, pre-warming contacts via social media is an important building block for me in building a network. With my inner attitude of wanting to contribute and also wanting to offer added value to my network, it is easy for me to make new contacts with people from subject areas relevant to me. For all those who are struggling with what to say, I would like to point out that studies show that people like to talk to other people who give them space to tell stories. This means we don’t have to think so much about what we might say, but may simply ask questions about the person with curiosity and interest.
If you like the post or want to discuss it, feel free to share it with your network.
Are you looking for support on the topic of strategic networking? Katharina Nolden is available for German-language individual coaching or in-house workshops.
Katharina Nolden has published additional articles in the t2informatik Blog:
Katharina Nolden has a degree in education, is a business coach (IHK) and Scrum Master (scrum.org). She brings several years of experience from management consultancy and the education, energy, service and health sectors. Her goal is to change the world of work as an expert for modern forms of work. She advises organisations on the topics of new forms of work, digital collaboration, recruiting and personnel marketing.