Strategies for Creative Networking

by Fred Coon, CEO

Networking is one sure cure when your current job inspires the Boredom Blues and you want to know what else is available. You have to make an effort to make yourself available and meet some of your peers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean endless dreary cocktail parties and schmoozing. You need to build relationships with them; convince them of your talents; make yourself into a desirable quantity and familiar enough that they will think of you when an opportunity arises.

Seek Out C-Level Hangouts

SCC Creative NetworkingBut where does something like that happen? In my town we have a restaurant/lounge/bar that comprises about one quarter of the second floor of a large office tower. This is where (obviously) high-powered executive lawyers hang out, as well as the new young ones that are trying to mine them for information or develop a rapport and a job opportunity.

The rest of the bar’s clientele is often CFOs, COOs, CEOs, and assorted high-powered executives. It’s a veritable cornucopia of networking opportunities. You have at least one of these in your town. It should take very little effort to reveal its location, and who its regular attendees are. Just dropping in, sitting at the bar or in the lounge and observing will get you started. Soon you’ll hear a conversation that just invites you to comment, offering some insight of your own. The bartender is a great source of who’s-who information and personality profile assessments. Tip well, and s/he will speak highly of you to others.

Volunteer to Showcase Skills

What do you love—art, theater, symphonies, running, sports? Anything will do if you are enthusiastic about it. Volunteer to support one of these community projects. Or perhaps you’re into more accessible charity events such as Special Olympics, the MS society, or the Diabetes Foundation. Whatever your choice, try volunteering at the sign-in table, where you’re going to meet virtually everyone and have the opportunity to exchange a few words.

If you’re a CEO who is great with consensus building, or a CFO that happens to be terrific at getting people to part with their money, your place in such an organization might be in fundraising. There’s an old author’s maxim that goes “show, don’t say.” Embrace it. If you happen to have raised $3.4M in your charity work last year, people are going to sit up and take notice, and you won’t have to do a thing; the charity will love to toot your horn for you!

Alumni Events

When they arise, attend your alumni events. Colleges and universities, by their very nature, are going to provide plenty of networking opportunities and, since it has been a few years since you were in high school, those people have had a chance to build their careers as well.

Would it please you to discover that Mike Smith, the fellow you used to play football with in high school, is now Director of Development for Samsung (North America)? Stranger things have happened by going to high school reunions.

Social Media

SCC Social Media NetworkingGoogle+, Twitter, and particularly LinkedIn, have been covered over and over. These remarks would be incomplete without (at least briefly) mentioning them again.

Like it or not, your behavior on social media says a lot about who you are and what you value in your personal and professional lives. Striking the right balance between being savvy and career-minded on social media is more important than ever before. —Matt Kapko, senior writer, CIO.com

  • Google+ lets you add anybody to your circles to keep updated on their activities. It allows you to tag anyone, or any company, in your own posts, giving them the opportunity to become familiar with you.
  • Twitter is popular because of its brevity; if you are interesting, people will take the time to read less than 140 characters. More importantly, reaching out to name brand stars in your field is as simple and acceptable as putting an “@” in front of their Twitter handle.
  • LinkedIn, of course, should be constantly kept up to date; this is a primary source for executive recruiters. It’s also your forum to participate in the social business community; to be helpful to your fellow members; to aid in discussions and offer advice; to be a thought leader. When people perceive you as a thoughtful contributor, your personal brand is significantly elevated.

Publish Your Expertise

No, this is not a Gavin Lyall reference (to his novel The Most Dangerous Game), and will involve no Restraining Orders. You’re going to exploit one of the latest business trends with companies wanting their C-suite people in the public eye. They are obliging them to publish articles, maintain Blogs, and trying to drive LinkedIn discussion groups that illustrate their expertise in a given field.

Your chore is simple: find one of these people that you wish to connect with and comment thoughtfully on their latest post or article, signing it with your real name and e-mail. You can agree or disagree with them—that’s up to you—but you want to be evocative, provocative, or enthusiastic enough to inspire them to contact you.

Set Up Breakfast or Lunch Group

The family estate may be out in the boondocks, meaning that you commit a certain amount of time to travel every day merely to attend your job. Seeing your spouse or kids during daylight hours is almost unheard of, so why would you want to extend that with after-work activities?

The alternative is simple: initiate a Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club. Taking a couple of hours on a midweek morning to exchange ideas with like-minded individuals in a social situation detracts very little from your ability to complete tasks. On the contrary, it can be a source of inspiration to help you solve problems.

SCC Business LunchToo early for you? The Hump Day Luncheon works precisely the same way, and people are already in a business state of mind by the time noon rolls around. Choose whatever you can make work for you.

Moreover, if you’re the creator, you have an opportunity every week to address the group, to remind them what the group is all about. Take the opportunity to steer the group towards a community project where everyone can contribute, but requiring minimal effort and time investment. Consequently they all get something new and interesting to add to their résumés, personal satisfaction, and the tangible results of your combined efforts.

The world has changed. Electronic schmoozing is the new thing” and although the old-fashioned way is just fine and still works, you can be much more efficient with these half dozen strategies.

Make sure these techniques are in your repertoire and you’ll be well ahead of the game.