Your network is the ultimate commodity.
I credit any semblance of success I’ve found to my incredible network. When I started Mekky Media, I was unsure of where to even begin. I sheepishly blasted a message out to my network on social media, asking for help in getting my first clients and was astounded by the response. I hadn’t even realized how vast my network really was. It was quietly sitting there, waiting to be activated. I underestimated what people thought of me, how many people I knew, and the power of social media.
I spent the first twenty years of my career cultivating the foundation of my network, and I’ve spent the last two years of my career building my business, and it hasn’t been until these past two years that I’ve reaped the rewards of my vast network. Take this past weekend, for example. I attended the Komen Gala, an event I was lucky enough to lead the PR efforts for. Looking into the crowd, I realized just how many of the attendees were my media contacts. I was able to fill a gala with my PR expertise, sure, but also with my network. It was amazing to see the seats filled by my friends and colleagues. To be able to give back to such a worthy organization in that way was humbling.
So how did I cultivate this incredible network? It’s simple, but it’s not easy. At least, it’s not effortless. Creating a personalized authentic network takes time and effort. Building this network requires you to put yourself out there a bit. You may feel uncomfortable at first. But if you do it correctly, in the future you’ll have an army of people to back you up, and it might just be when you need their support the most.
Now start building:
Don’t be selective—especially not at first. Believe me, if you’re just starting out in your career, you don’t have the luxury of turning away people who want to spend time with you. When I first started out, I never had an agenda when meeting other people. It’s not as though I only friended my family members on Facebook. I asked everyone to connect with me on social media and I tried my best to treat them all the same. I was friendly to everyone, which left a lasting positive impression on everyone I came across. Save every card you collect and connect with as many of them as your can for coffee.
Get creative. When I was starting out, I tapped into dozens of women’s networking groups. You can triple your network in a matter of weeks just by putting a little time, effort, and research in the upfront. Back then, I found myself pounding the pavement, building up an arsenal of people. I believe this is truly what you have to do to earn a network that stands out.
Bond immediately. Of course, we don’t have time to develop deep relationships with the 25 people we meet a week. To build that authentic aspect, you have to find something real to connect over. Here’s a secret: no one remembers your name in the first seven seconds. I know it’s tempting to start by saying “Hi, my name is Michelle. What’s yours?” Scrap that way of thinking. Start with a compliment (people love compliments!), a joke, or an observation about the place/food/drinks. Find something unique to the situation so you can both bond over it right away. It may seem forced, but it’s the best way to ensure the rest of the conversation is anything but.
Nurture authenticity. Ditch the agenda! You want to know a surefire way to create fake relationships? Go into it wondering how you can get what you want. On the flip side, to build real, deep relationships, treat people less like business cards to collect and more like human beings. I know you’ve probably heard this advice time and time again, but it’s true. You never know who will be able to help you later on. I’ve had people grab me for coffee and didn’t ask me for anything—they just nurtured that relationship. Finding real moments to connect will pay off in the long run. If it doesn’t, you got a new friend out of it and you maintain your integrity.
Master the art of following up. It takes a few extra minutes, yes. But it’s worth it. How many times have you received what is clearly a template in your inbox? Are you inclined to click on it? Of course not. I recommend taking notes in real time after conversations of unique differentiators from that conversation and write “Authentic Connections” in the “company” line of your contacts when you exchange numbers. Then, during your follow up, you can do a call-back to something specific you talked about. This is not the time to sell anything (unless they genuinely expressed interest in something you sell in your conversation). It’s simply the time to keep the conversation going. Follow everyone you meet on social media and let them know in your follow up email—social media is so powerful because you can comment on their posts. You’re in their world now. All from a simple follow-up.
Authenticity is about realness. Networking gets a bad rap because it feels forced. I’m here to tell you it absolutely does not need to feel that way. You can create real relationships in the business world—in fact, you should. Your relationships are the only thing that are entirely ownable to you. No one can take them away. Business can be so much fun when those relationships you have are real. They are people who truly care about you and want you to succeed. The media guests I spent the night with at the Komen Gala are also my friends.. They promote the cause, and promote me. And we support each other.
When you remain yourself, no matter the situation, and you lead with value, your network will thrive. Authentically.