Step Up Your Networking Game
In our city of Angels, where knowing the right people can be as daunting as knowing which freeway to take if you want to skip traffic (will we ever?), we’re often left feeling overwhelmed by that enchanting little word: networking. It holds the promise of getting you to your next step, if you can figure out how to work the damn thing. This is true regardless of where you are in the world, and it’s especially true if you consider yourself a creative or entrepreneur. So this week I spoke to Ashley Soto, a persistent networking master who has intuitively navigated all the stages in her career.
What impressed me when I first met Ashley was how flawlessly she moved through these different phases in her career and how she made all of them work in her favor. My question to her has often been, how?! Don’t get me wrong, her intelligence and talent are evident right away. But my question stood, how does one make smooth career moves and jumps without missing a beat? Networking always came up which made sense, but of course it also left me with more questions. So I had to ask for her secrets and she graciously answered.
Q: To get us started, I want to ask what is your proudest networking moment?
A: My proudest networking moment? The first time I networked my way into a full time job. It was proof of concept: it worked! Now that I knew this method worked and that, once stripped down, it was really quite simple--a conversation--it opened up the door to the possibilities. Since that moment, all of the money I've made has resulted from sort of networking.
Q: What is your gameplan when you go into a networking event or function where you know there is potential? Break it down for us. Do you research beforehand? If there was no time for that how to select who you will approach?
A: I research the person/people/company of interest beforehand so that I know exactly who I will look for at the event. If the person of interest is a guest speaker, I will listen to what they say and angle my question(s) based on what they said. I usually have a general sense of what I want to ask about or what my goal is, but by incorporating verbatim tidbits from what they said, it comes across as if I have a curiosity about the topic. It works because it demonstrates that you paid attention and have an interest in what they specifically said. It's creating dialogue about a topic that they know more about than you do, which allows them to do most of the talking.
Q: You’ve networked as a marketer and as a creative. Now, you are putting your creative skills out there as opposed to representing a company. How has your “gameplan” changed since making that switch?
A: I'm selling myself as opposed to selling a product or service for a company. The pitch has changed, but the process is the same. The stakes are higher, so it does feel more daunting, but at its core, it's leaving with a business card and following up. If someone doesn't respond within 10 days, I follow up again.
Q: Any advice for creatives who don’t know where to start with networking?
A: Mine Eventbrite for events in your field of interest. Mine LinkedIn for people in your field, and send a message requesting an informational interview. If you already have a specific product, then include your pitch within the message--and make sure the pitch is tailored to demonstrate how it helps them rather than how it helps you.
Q: Let’s get specific. How do you organize your conversational pitch when you meet someone?
A: Show interest in the other person rather than dive into your goals. It's like a negotiation. You don't tell the other side what you really want. You almost want it to be their idea. By just having a conversation with someone and creating camaraderie, even from a short time together, the other person will eventually ask you why you're there. By the time you reach that point in the conversation, they already like you and are interested in you--because you've already invested in them by being the first to break the awkward networking silence. The ball's then in your court. That's the point when you can be transparent about your goals, and the person will offer to help.
This isn't always true, however. If you're pitching to the guest speaker after standing in a long line of other people pitching to the guest speaker, be direct. Get straight to the point. It's a tweet: 140 characters that reel them in and make them laugh or have an "aha" moment. Another approach is to literally wait till the chaos dies because they will have noticed that you waited. It's happened to me more often than not that someone will say, "You've been waiting awhile..." and they give me their undivided attention, which gives me time to deliver more than a tweet.
Q: Do you have any tips for someone who is more on the introverted side and dreads anything with the word “networking” in it?
A: I think people assume that you have to be the life of the party to get a lead. Leaving with a business card and following up the next morning with "It was so great meeting you at X" works just as well. It doesn't require a huge amount of effort, and the introverts don't have to worry about the face-to-face time. To be clear, regardless of introvert/extrovert, you should always be following up, but if you're introverted, you can wait till the e-mail for the ask.
Another strategy is to have 2 or 3 talking points ready at all times. It works best if they're questions. The goal is to get the other person talking that way the introvert can just (actively) listen. People like to talk about themselves, and if you were the person who encouraged them to do so, they'll like you. It's so simple that it's scary!