The benefits of networking are proven — but do you have to use LinkedIn to grow your network? Not necessarily, as it’s one avenue to initially connect with people but, ultimately, building relationships in real life is much more crucial, says leadership coach and career expert, Bianca Riemer.
And if you hate LinkedIn and have zero intentions of becoming a power user, here is the good news: You don’t have to. Networking off the platform is “where the music is really playing,” according to Riemer.
“LinkedIn is one of many possible ways to be introduced to new connections. But the next step is vital — continuing the relationship offline. It’s only really via person-to-person networking that relationships are formed properly via the know-like-trust factor,” she says.
“What matters a lot more than any specific social media platform is how you treat people offline.”
Ready to make the most of networking without having to spend hours on a social network you don’t really enjoy? We’ve asked Riemer, who has helped countless women leap into leadership positions and catapult their careers, for her best tips on the topic.
1. Stay in touch
You never know who might end up being a valuable career contact. Keeping in touch with friends, former classmates, relatives and previous coworkers is an evergreen practice that can work wonders for your professional development. And a thoughtful gesture here and there is all it takes.
“A simple birthday, anniversary or seasonal greeting card is all it takes to stay top of mind. Physical things like cards or small presents have become rather unusual in today’s world and are therefore a sure way to stand out and create rapport,” says Riemer.
2. Offer your help
Don’t wait to be asked — be generous with your support on a regular basis and build goodwill. This approach will always yield results in the long run, as it’s better to have a few in-depth relationships than a bunch of superficial connections.
“Ask others what they need and how you can help them, then help them where you can — you may know somebody who specializes in solving the problem that your contact has. By making a simple introduction between these two people, you build goodwill with both, and they are more likely to return a favor to you in the future.”
3. Give before asking
On that note, try to provide value before asking for something, suggests Riemer:
“Make sure you give before you ask. Don’t just send an email out of the blue asking for help in landing a job at the company, or asking the person to be your mentor. People are much more inclined to help you if you have helped them before.”
4. Use rejection as an opportunity
“Thank them for the opportunity to meet them and wish them all the best for the future. This counterintuitive tip builds an enormous amount of trust and goodwill, and makes this person more likely to either recommend or hire you in the future.”
5. Talk about your projects
Let others know what you’re excited about and what you’re working on. If you’re growing your team, talk about it. If you’re learning about emerging tech in your industry, share your experience.
Letting those closest to you know what you’re up to is a great way to increase social proof and trust, and it also increases your chances of being recommended for a project or introduced to a key point of contact.
6. Make your emails interactive
Why send a standard email when you can take it to a whole other level and use the interaction as a way to deepen your relationship with someone or make a cold pitch stand out?
“Another rather unusual way to make a connection or to stay in touch is sending a personalized video message via email. Software like Loom or Sendspark allows you to create a thumbnail in your email that shows your face. You could personalize this video even further by holding up a sign with the person’s name — I’d only do this if you are cold-emailing,” says Riemer.
7. Write testimonials
Another unusual networking tip: Write testimonials when doing business with vendors or partners. Not only is it a great way to give back, but it’s also a visibility boost for you — a double-whammy in terms of nurturing your network.
“Say, for example, you have worked with a really great executive coach and gained a promotion as a result. Giving this person a testimonial on their website highlights you as an individual who invests in their own career development, and might thus increase your credibility with colleagues, clients and potential future employers,” according to Riemer.
8. Avoid burdening people
Whether you’re networking online or offline, the last thing you want is to be a burden. Avoid bulk-sending emails or messages without any personalization, says Riemer. And stay away from sending an update for the sake of it if you’re not close to someone.
“The worst is ‘Hi, how are you? Here’s what’s been going on for me…’ followed by a long monologue about your life. Unless the person has signed up to your newsletter, this is considered spam — and nobody wants spam. Instead, send people things that you think are useful for them right now, like an article that you saw, a job post or an event.”
And when you’re introducing people to one another, double-check with both parties that they would like to be connected to avoid potential awkwardness. “You don’t want to be the person who ‘burdened’ one of your contacts with having to meet a networking contact during their most busy period in the year, for example.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about maintaining networking etiquette while staying authentic and providing value.