In today’s business culture, networking online and in-person can feel so, so forced. We all know the feeling – you arrive at an event, get a cup of coffee, and then stand around awkwardly in hopes someone comes up to introduce themselves (or you see someone else standing awkwardly that you can go up to and introduce yourself.) Networking favors the extroverted, which can mean that those who are on the quieter side aren’t given the same opportunities, and don’t reach the same level of success.
To help you find a path forward, we’re taking a deep dive into Networking in a 3-part series. In Part 1, we laid out a framework to understand how we developed the culture around professional networking we have today. In Part II, we took a look at the different approaches to networking and how to leverage them to your benefit. Here in the final part of this series, we'll be diving deep into how you can build a meaningful network that actually pays off in the long run.
How do you choose the right networking events to go to?
It's hard enough to make time for networking - don't waste it attending events that don't align with your priorities! Before you determine which types of events work for you, consider: What are your goals in networking? Are you hoping to grow your business by finding potential clients? Are you hoping to land a new job? Just looking for people who share your interests that you can build friendships with?
If you're looking to get work in the city building industry, your best bet is to find yourself in an inter-disciplinary setting. That's because we're most often hired by our peers in related professions. For example, an architect might be hired by a real estate developer. If you're hoping to grow your client base, aim to attend events hosted by inter-disciplinary groups like Ticco. These events will allow you to build relationships with your peers who can learn about your expertise and see you as a resource when your services might be needed.
If you're looking to connect with individuals on a personal level, inter-disciplinary events are also a great way to go! However, you can really zoom in and find those with a shared interest by attending networking events for specific professional associations (such as your local American Planning Association chapter.) Many times these groups host an even more niche gathering, such as an emerging professionals happy hour, that offers an opportunity to find professionals in your same practice who are at a similar career stage or specialize in the same arena as you. Attending these in-person events is a great way to make friends who live in your area and understand the 'why' behind your work!
Once you know what kind of events you're looking for, how do you find them?
In our industry, a great way to keep tabs on upcoming events is to subscribe to the e-newsletter of the host organization. Once you know what types of events you're looking for, find your local chapter (if applicable) and subscribe to their newsletter to be notified when they're organizing a gathering near you!
How do you connect with the right people at events?
If you're at a local or regional networking event that aligns with your interest (such as a happy hour) the best thing to do is to mingle! Walk around and introduce yourself, or find a small group and ask if you can join their table. Make sure to spend enough time with a person to get a sense of their work (and leave them with a sense of yours!) but don't commit to spending the evening with one connection.
At national gatherings (such as an annual conference hosted by a professional association in our industry) hunt through the program and search on Twitter with the conference hashtag to find sessions as well as meetups happening at the conference that align with your personal area of practice and/or interest. Pay close attention to session descriptions and prioritize sessions where the description describes some sort of group activity. Those sessions embed time for dialogue, and increase the likelihood that you find someone to connect with over the course of the experience. Spending your time with others who are working in the same specialty or have a similar interest is a great way to maximize the time and money you've invested in being there!
Once you've made a connection, how do you keep in touch?
If you speak with someone you meet at a networking event about something specific (for instance, a potential collaboration) make a note on their business card so you don't forget! Make sure they get a card from you, and hold on to cards you collect throughout the duration of the networking event. Afterwards, email those with notes directly to follow up on your conversation. Whether you said you'd send them a piece of information, or you wanted to continue a discussion about working together, that's a great way to do it!
For those you just collected a card from, use your discretion to decide whether it's authentic to keep in touch with them. Networking shouldn't be forced or disingenuous - if you don't feel you'll need to communicate with the personal again, simply toss the card and politely greet them if you recognize them when/if your paths cross again. If you feel they could be a resource later, save their card with others you store in your work space (if you're analog) for reference later, follow them on Ticco, and/or send them a polite connection request on LinkedIn so you have a simply way of keeping in touch without investing much of your time.
What if I can't attend events in person?
Networking in-person has pros and cons, but one of the cons is that it certainly caters to those who can get away for a happy hour on a weekday evening or have the privilege to take time off and travel for a conference. If these in-person gatherings don't work for you, there are absolutely alternatives! Ticco's built-in Discussions feature as well as niche Facebook groups like Historic Preservation Professionals and We Do Incremental Development offer a space where you can participate in ongoing conversations. While Discussions on Ticco are great if you want to hear from a wide range of professionals, these other groups can be useful if you're looking to connect with or hear feedback from a specific subset of individuals.
We're excited to be releasing a whole new set of career tools for the Ticco community in 2020! But until they're available, searching for a fellow member who shares your interest and sending them a message is always a great place to start! You can search for a general term like "designer" or a place like "Ohio" and then use our advanced filters to find the connections you need most. If you're looking for those who are passionate about the same things you are, filter by interest like "recreation areas and national parks" or "social justice and equity issues." If you're looking to hire someone or make a connection with someone who could use your services, filter by professional specialty like "public transportation."
We want to hear your ideas and all about the ways you network! Tweet your thoughts and insights to us @go_ticco and/or use #goticco!