The Importance of External Networking for Leaders

Leaders need to be consistently visible inside and outside of their organization.

External networking is the process of building business relationships with others who do not work within your company. The benefits of external networking can have an impact on whether you are job searching, needing referrals, trying to expand your knowledge base, or trying to stay informed of best practices in other industries. Either way, you cannot go wrong by implementing this practice on a consistent basis.

However, networking can be intimidating to many people. How do you do it, who you reach out to, and what you say are common questions that will be answered within the process below.

Networking is nothing more than making yourself visible to your target audience (contacts, other leaders, employers, recruiters, etc.) and trying to learn about them. Traditional networking is a face-to-face process, but virtual networking is becoming more and more the norm. It is a much quicker, cheaper, and less stressful way to network that is 100% online.

The benefit of virtual networking is that even those who despise the traditional method will embrace this process with ease. With this process, you will be able to network across borders from the comfort of your home. Those who prefer face-to-face networking will now have a secondary option if needed.

Follow this four-step process and watch your network grow exponentially!

1. Find Potential Contacts

If you have not reached out to your database of old contacts now is the time to do it. Or access your social media platforms where they are connected to you. If you have a LinkedIn profile (which should be mandatory for business professionals) then you have the perfect avenue to reach your contacts.

In LinkedIn, not only do you have your own contacts (people you are connected to), but there is a way to connect with others by searching and filtering. You can do this based on geography, company, field, and other data. With LinkedIn, you can reach out to anyone, anywhere. Choose the platforms you want to access, and start reaching out to people.

2. Reach Out to Contacts

The process of reaching out involves deciding who you want to reach out to and then sending them a short email or a message through LinkedIn. I do mean short – about 1 or 2 well-crafted, spell-checked, concise sentences.

Remember, networking is not about selling yourself, it is about developing the relationship. That should take the pressure off completely because you are not trying to sell, you are trying to learn.

Here is an example introductory sentence to send to one of your LinkedIn connections, or to someone on LinkedIn with whom you would like to connect with.

“Hello John: I noticed that we are both in the same line of work and I’d like to connect with you to learn more about what you’re doing these days. Would you be open to a brief phone/zoom chat in the next week or so?” That is it, done. Two sentences.

Here is another LinkedIn sample sentence. “Hello Samantha: I noticed from your profile that we have some professional commonalities. I’m always trying to grow my network and wondered if you have time for a brief networking call later this week.”

Here is an example for someone who is already one of your Facebook contacts. “Hi Julie: I notice we’ve been connected for a while and I’m trying to make more time to get to know my contacts. I wondered if you would like to have a brief chat next week.”

You can modify these sample sentences in whatever way applies to your style. The point is that they are short, friendly, and an opportunity for you to learn. You will find that almost 100% of those you reach out to will accept your invitation.

3. What to Say During the Networking Call

When you receive a response that someone wants to chat, confirm the day, time, and phone number, or link. Then, send a formal calendar invitation. During the actual call, the content should be no different than a face-to-face networking meeting.

Here is where most people mess up even with face-to-face networking. You are not trying to sell! You are trying to learn! So, plan to ask them a lot of open-ended questions, have a two-way dialogue, listen for commonalities, and show an authentic interest in what they are saying. If you can weave your needs into the conversation, then do so but don’t make the entire conversation about you. Look for ways you can help them.

For example, send them a resource, refer them to someone in your network, or give them a quick tip or piece of knowledge. Be sure to end the meeting on time. A great side benefit that will almost always happen at this step is that they will also ask how they can help you. If this happens, you might ask them to make an introduction for you to someone in the industry or to add you to their contact list or ask if you can follow up with them in a few months. This is the start of building the relationship.

4. What to Do After the Networking Call

There are post networking activities that need to be completed within 24 hours after your call. You need to add the person to your database with notes about the call. If they agreed to subscribe to any of your social platforms, subscribe to them If you promised to send them something, send it. If you committed to following up with them, leave yourself a reminder.

No matter what, send them an email thanking them for their time and letting them know something valuable that you learned. Many business activities have been conducted virtually for a long time, but now, it is almost mandatory.

If you want to stay relevant, visible, and keep up on industry standards, then try virtual networking by following these steps. This will be easier for some than for others, depending on your industry and your personality, but give it a try. Commit to one hour of virtual networking a week (two 30-minute calls) and watch your confidence and career transform.

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