Networking in all its forms has been one of the most important tools for developing my career. Professional events, conferences, LinkedIn, social media, you name it – I strongly believe in the value of connecting and reconnecting with people for opening doors, getting jobs and clients, learning about professional opportunities, and meeting cool and inspiring people.
I recently had coffee with someone (let’s call her M.) who I had not seen in a few years. She posted on LinkedIn that she is returning to freelance consulting and is looking for new projects and clients. Having recently transitioned back into freelance consulting myself, I wanted to know more about what she had been up to, and vice versa, so we planned a time to meet up.
At one point, M. asked me about what local networking events I like to go to in Portland. Unfortunately I didn’t have any suggestions – while this is something I used to do more often in past years, these days I don’t attend many because lately I haven’t found anything of much interest or value. She felt the same, and we agreed that traditional events and professional organizations can be difficult for networking due to their unstructured nature and large number of attendees. Not only that, but the speakers and topics can be hit-or-miss, another disincentive that makes it seem not so worth it.
M. then brought up something really insightful and spot on – that the most valuable form of networking she does is one-on-one, face-to-face conversations “with people in your network, people who share common interests, people who know your super powers.”
Different networking methods have their pros and cons, but I agree wholeheartedly with her observation. There is nothing like a conversation with someone you really connect with, whether you’ve known them for forever, or you’re meeting them for the first time. When I feel a genuine connection with someone, the spark is immediately obvious. The conversation has a quality and depth that is unmatched. I feel excited about what’s in store and the knowledge I’ll walk away with. I am stimulated by the free-flowing ideas. Time flies. And I always look forward to meeting with these people again in the future.
Our hour-long conversation was the kind of interaction that truly inspires and motivates me, fuels my brain and validates me both personally and professionally. Can I please have one of these each week?! M. and I talked about all kinds of things, from consulting, careers, marketing and user experience, to the idiocy of businesses that don’t listen to customers, CRM tools, badass boss women, and living the single life. Sometimes when I meet with people, we stick to one or two topics, and it’s a somewhat structured, predictable conversation. The special ones reveal themselves as they go along, are fluid and open, and often start without a predefined direction or specific purpose – M. and I had no particular agenda in mind, just the shared goal of catching up and seeing how we could help each other.
Effective networking takes a holistic approach – not putting all of your eggs in one basket or relying on one channel, but investing in a handful of the most valuable avenues to help you meet your goals. Every method has its pros and cons. One-on-one meetings may not be easy to schedule, or they may be a dud. I’ve already covered the downside of big events, but they can be good for serendipitous connections, options (lots of people in one place ), and targeted networking (e.g., you want to meet someone from a particular company or who does a particular job).
Think about these activities in terms of macro and micro approaches. LinkedIn, social media, large events – these fall into the macro category. Chatting with an acquaintance or friend face-to-face, doing an informational interview, or gathering with a small group to mindshare, are examples of small-scale or micro networking.
Macro activities are important because they often lead to micro meet-ups. One-on-one conversations have been beneficial for me professionally and even personally. These are the moments in which I get the best ideas and new perspectives that evolve my understanding of things. I have even formed some good friendships over time. And while macro networking can lead to micro networking by broadening your network, it works both ways. Meeting up with someone can expand your network into new areas through mutual connections, opportunities to work together, and professional recommendations.
Thank you M. for the wonderfully inspiring conversation that led to this post! Looking forward to meeting next time.
If you are reading this and you want to catch up over coffee/tea/beer/lunch/phone/video, please get in touch!
And, if you want to know more about online networking and creating an effective digital presence, check out some slides from a presentation I did in 2015 for students at the University of Memphis.