By Dmitry Dragilev
The phrases “personal branding” and “networking skills” make a lot of people cringe. It’s often associated with being sleazy and ingenuine, with the main goal being wriggling your way into the “inner circle” for your own selfish reasons.
Leaving aside the nasty reputation, networking—if it’s based on building genuine relationships—is one of the most powerful tools for personal brands.
First of all, hanging out with the crowd in your industry is important for being able to learn from the best—knowledge sharing is one of the most powerful ways for everyone to succeed.
Networking is also a great way to get yourself associated and on the radar with other professionals—not just because, but for establishing useful partnerships and cooperation.
There is definitely a subtle art behind successful and authentic networking. Besides the work that goes into figuring out your motives, finding your approach, and creating compelling conversations, a lot of hard effort needs to go into maintaining the relationships you form too.
Today, we’re going to share five tips for polishing your public relationships skills, and maintaining your connections.
1. Figure Out Your “Why?”
Like we said in the intro, the word “networking” tends to have a bad reputation, so you need to make sure that your motives for wanting to network don’t align with that nasty label.
Before you start taking any other steps, you need to understand what networking really means—especially for you personally.
What’s your ultimate goal with trying to make connections with other people in your industry or area? Why are you doing it?
Are you mainly trying to initiate knowledge sharing and learning from others? Are you looking to maybe start cooperating or working with these people? Are you looking for business partners or investors?
You need to have a very clear understanding of why you want to start getting into networking, rather “just because” or “it’d be fun”. This will help you pick your strategies and make sure you have the right approach.
Even though, like we said, networking needs to be based on genuinely, there are still different initial “pitches” you need to make—even just to start a conversation. You don’t have to sell yourself by any means, but knowing what you’re after will help you set the right tone from the get go.
Just trying to make a light connection with someone whose work you admire is very different from starting a conversation with someone you hope will invest in your business.
So, before you jump into any action, figure out your “why” and think about how that would set the tone for your communication.
2. Do Your Research
Once you’ve figured out what your end goal or main interests are for getting into the networking world, it’s time to really do your homework about the people or companies you’d like to get in touch with.
You might think that you know a lot about them already, but there’s most likely things you haven’t discovered yet.
Take your time and make sure you’re really familiar with everything they’ve done. Go into detail too—the more specifics you know about them and their work, the easier it will be for you to connect.
You might even find things that you have in common that you didn’t know about. For example, check out their social media profiles. Maybe they tweet about cats as much as you do!
Even if there really isn’t a single thing you’ve missed in your previous knowledge about them, you can still refresh your memory. Read their content again, listen to their podcast, look at their designs—whatever area they’re in.
If you’ve been keeping an eye on them for a longer time, you’ll be looking at their work with a fresh set of eyes, and might even have a different attitude towards it.
Having intimate knowledge about the people who you’re going to attempt to connect with will give you a lot of topics to discuss, ask about, and connect over.
3. Be Human
There’s a good chance that the people you want to network with already have a crowd circling around them, trying to do the same.
This might not be the case, but even then, make sure to keep your human-ness in any contact.
Don’t put on a mask, or try to come across as something or someone you’re not. Even if you’re not dealing with people who have thousands of others trying to connect with them, most “regular” people can still tell when you’re being fake.
Try to not treat anyone like a business contact from the get go. It usually comes across as cold, impersonal, and rigid. Even worse, it sends an immediate signal that you’re up to no good and in it only for your own causes.
Networking shouldn’t be about using people, it should be about helping each other and sharing experiences and knowledge.
Rather than just handing off a business card, a much better way to go is to make a light, friend-like connection, literally. When you’re making your contact, think about how you would approach a potential friend!
Don’t start any of your conversations with “so how about that giant funding your company got yesterday?”, start with “I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you’re big on surfing—mind giving me some tips?”—you get the gist.
As your conversations go further, you’ll find the time to talk about work. Everything at its own, appropriate time!
And who knows, you might actually end up being best buddies.
4. Know Your Boundaries
This should go without saying, but know your limits.
Sometimes, connections just don’t happen, no matter how much you’ve worked on your skills or thought it’ll be the most amazing networking experience you’ll ever have.
If it’s not happening, it’s not happening, and you need to let it go. Nobody likes pushy people. If you find out your interests aren’t aligned, the conversation isn’t flowing, or the connection just isn’t there, don’t pursue it. Walk away. Don’t be rude about it, but just walk away.
Think of it kind of like dating, some dates just don’t work out. Not that anyone did anything wrong, but the alignment just isn’t there, and trying to push it isn’t beneficial to either side.
To avoid wasting your time as well as other people’s, it’s best to exit conversations that aren’t a good match sooner rather than later. This will give you the opportunity to go and connect with someone you’re a great fit with.
5. Keep In Touch
We all know how hard it is to keep in touch with people who aren’t immediate family or very close friends.
Time goes by, we’re all busy, past contact is forgotten; it happens.
The key to keeping relationships alive is keeping the conversation going. You’ve connected with people that you admire and want to learn from, right?
So, keep an eye on what they do, what they say, and what they’re up to. Start a conversation when they do something awesome—write a good post, launch a product, whatever it is that you’re excited about on their behalf.
Remind yourself every now and then. Reply to their tweet, leave a comment on their content, send them a postcard—whatever. Don’t be worried about being annoying.
Here’s what Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove, has to say about following up in his article about how networking can help you succeed in life and business:
“A lot of people are hesitant to follow up because they think they’re being annoying. But consider this: what if you’re not being annoying? What if you’re actually being helpful?”
So make sure you include your experiences as well, something that could help them. Work on making your relationships meaningful ones, with a lot of mutual learning involved.
Did they just announce they’re writing a book? Send an email telling them about the awesome editing tool you just found.
If you know you tend to be forgetful when it comes to keeping relationships, make a physical note to do so. Have a weekly planner? Jot down “shoot John an email” or “recommend this app to Susan.”
Mastering Personal Branding Is an Art and a Science
Even though it has the unfortunate reputation, building public relationships doesn’t have to be evil or ingenuine.
As long as you understand that successful networking is built on creating real, genuine, mutual relationships, it can be an incredible tool for learning, connecting, knowledge sharing, and business opportunities if you want them.
Take your time, figure out your end goal of why you want to start getting around more, make sure you’re connecting on the right foundations, and keep the conversation going—even if you have to teach yourself to do it.
Even if you don’t 100% get to your end goal, deliberate networking is still a surefire way to create great relationships that can be helpful when you least expect it!
More Resources About Networking & Work Communication
Featured photo credit: Antenna via unsplash.com
 ^ Groove: How to Use Networking to Succeed in Business and Life
This article was first published at Lifehack