Networking does not have to be a chore… Entrepreneur Guilhem Bertholet suggests some good practices to adopt to become a networking pro, online and in real life.
Networking is like a sport: you don’t train for a marathon overnight, but you start out with a good routine. First, think about networking in person. It can be time-consuming, but it is very effective. All you have to do is go to professional events: conferences, breakfasts, after-work get-togethers, and the like. To be aware of these events, contact your alumni network and the alumni themselves, do Google searches, and join Linkedln groups that share this type of information. Once at the event, start the conversation, collect business cards, but don’t approach it like a canvassing campaign. Think of it more as a game. And there is no point doing too much of it: one or two events per month is plenty, because then you have to follow up on the contacts you have made. Avoid going overkill: focus on the quality of your presence and connections.
LinkedIn, an indispensable resource
After networking in person, add the people you have talked to as connections on Linkedln, quickly reminding them of where and when you met. And don’t let your relationships die, check in with your contacts and give news; when you start a new job, for instance. You can set up alerts to help you remember to rekindle your contacts. But simply take the time, on a regular basis, to review your Linkedln messages and see where you stand in your exchanges with your network. What’s more, being identified on the Internet as an expert on a particular subject is a good way to expand your network. People will notice you and get in touch with you. Ideally, you could create your own website, but properly maintaining it takes a lot of time. I recommend that you start by making Linkedln your personal site: share articles on a given topic and write posts.
Make an offer before you make a request
Above all, it is important to keep in mind that the network is not a store where people come to help themselves. We always have something we can give to others, and we must explicitly offer it. Even when we are young and just starting out. Make an offer before you make a request, and leave room for random chance. Some relationships come about by chance, and sometimes they pay out long afterwards. One thing is certain: it takes longer than a couple of weeks to build up your network. And to have an active network on the day you need it most (e.g. when you are starting your own business or looking for a new job), you need to have nurtured it in advance, over time. Obviously, sometimes you will be in search of something specific… In that case, it is better to formalize your request clearly. But always bear in mind that you have things to offer too. It is never too early to start building your network. Students can start from an acquaintance, an internship supervisor, their workmates in their first job, and so on. Each person you meet can connect you with several others. Quite simply, it works exactly the same way as with our circles of friends.
A repeat entrepreneur, Guilhem founded the networking association La Cuisine du Web in Lyons, created the HEC incubator and directed it from 2008 to 2011, and has taught courses in digital marketing and entrepreneurship at the school.