Branding. The word is typically associated with products; a strong brand is synonymous with quality and loyalty. Building brand awareness contributes to success. Did you know that you can create your own brand, the brand of you? Your brand can enhance your ability to move ahead within your organization—and outside of it. Branding yourself, and making sure people know who you are, what you can offer and how value is synonymous with your name, is a big advantage in career development.
Why Networking Matters
Being good at your job is what keeps you in your current position. But moving beyond your current position requires more than hard work, technical skills and expertise. It requires networking skills.
Networking, among other things, is a leadership skill and it is one of the strongest ways to build your brand. Networking is about communication and sharing information between two or more people. It becomes networking when you turn it into a meaningful business discussion and/or a mutually beneficial business relationship.
Look around you; look at who is getting ahead. It is not solely about how well you do your job or what you know; it is about who you know. And it is about who knows you. You need to make sure that the right people know who you are and what your brand stands for. By creating a brand—your brand—you will get noticed more often and you will have a far better chance of achieving your professional goals.
Your Branding Message
Let’s get back to your brand. It is who you are and what people think when they hear your name. It is what is unique about you and your ability to effect change or have an impact. It can define who you are professionally and how you are perceived in the minds of others.
To begin, you need a positioning statement or elevator pitch—in essence, your introduction. This should be a 20-second speech, and it should be compelling and clear. This is not about announcing your title and job function. This is not about acronyms or industry jargon. It is about more than that. It is what defines your contribution and value to an organization. Make it exciting and intriguing so that people will want to know more about you. Make it memorable, and add something personal if you are comfortable with that (refer to volunteer work, instruments played, etc.). This is your opening statement when you network. This is not an all-or-nothing introduction or description. Your introduction should adapt to your situation and the specific networking opportunity.
Once you are comfortable with your branding message, it is time to think about what you want to achieve from networking. Maybe it is new contacts or new clients. Maybe you want to get noticed, to enhance your profile or get promoted. Networking will help you achieve your agenda and it is a habit that can be learned. But, before you assume that it is only about your agenda, think again. Networking is about giving and receiving. You can openly acknowledge that you want something, that you have an agenda. However, the quickest and easiest way to get what you want is by giving something, by offering to help someone else. It is okay to ask people for guidance or help, but you should be ready to offer something first.
In the Covid-19 world, you can still network. The need for it has not changed, but your approach may. Once you have a branding message (your introduction) and you know what you want (your goal), it is time to network. But where to begin? Networking is about creating opportunities, developing relationships and it is about connecting the dots, for yourself and others. Start small if you are uncomfortable, approach a few people, and try different strategies, ask to be connected to people already in your network. Whatever you do, take action.
Begin networking online. LinkedIn is a great place to start. For those of you for whom networking instills fear, LinkedIn is an easy way to make contact (versus networking in a room full of strangers, which none of us are doing right now). As you think about who to connect with, do your homework, look for people that share groups you belong to, have worked at the same companies, and have some common connection.
Effective networking requires prep work, so do your homework. Figure out who you want exposure to. It is likely that this will evolve—especially if there is a shift in your agenda. Networking can occur at any time, including in video conference calls. You can also look at cancelled conferences and find a community that’s grown online, as well as online courses and virtual events. Then, target whom you want to meet. Be selective. Think about where you can add value. Remember, make it about the other person; be ready to offer something in return for the opportunity to network.
Here are a few things to offer to others as you network:
- Your time.
- Your advice.
- Your connections.
- Your ideas. Pay attention to relevant news, keeping aware of trends and changes in your particular industry, or the industry of the person you are networking with. Send articles and commentary to relevant individuals.
Regardless of the medium, do not underestimate the value of following up. Take the initiative and make the first move, send a thank you note, and do it within 24 hours. Be genuine and summarize what you both agreed to do. Let people know that you enjoyed meeting them. Keep the email short and concise and do not forget to offer something in return.
Crafting Your Brand
Networking will become a natural habit and it will strengthen your brand. It will open doors, open up your horizons, and expand your opportunities. You will build a network of contacts that can help you succeed. Ultimately, your network will be the distribution channel for your brand.
We leave you with a few thoughts about networking:
- Remember that you have two ears and one mouth; use them accordingly.
- Listen to others—even if you have an agenda. Listening to others will enable you to figure out what is important to the other person. You will learn how to help them in return for asking for their guidance or help.
- Do what you say you are going to do. Most people don’t and if you do, you are already ahead of the competition.
- It takes time to build and nurture relationships. Stay in touch routinely with your most important contacts. Send emails or articles of interest or invite them to industry forums. Make yourself known; invest the time in getting your brand out there.
- Network with a smile—whether you are on video or not, a smile comes through and it makes you that much more engaging.