“Network Before You Need It”

Years ago a mentor told me to “network before you need it”…in other words, start building business relationships now – both internally and externally – to maximize business opportunities and personal growth throughout your career!

Taking this to heart is one thing and actually putting in the effort it is another.

For those early in your career, the best way to start is asking a peer, executive or senior leader to have coffee or lunch.  Commit to doing this once a month with different people and have clear a purpose for the meeting. Perhaps you want learn more about someone’s career path (people love to talk about themselves) or a particular facet of the company.  Maybe you work in finance, but always had an interest in marketing and want to learn more about those roles. Whatever the subject matter – reach out and CONNECT. Building your network internally helps to create business relationships and you’ll learn something from each person you encounter.

As the Senior Vice President for National Accounts at Speakeasy, a communication development and consulting service to some of the most influential business leaders in the world, I’ve reaped the benefits of decades spent building my network. I strongly recommend you make attending regular networking and business association events a priority. So, where do you begin? Many cities have a business publication, like the Atlanta Business Chronicle. These organizations often host programs to bring business people together in various forums and it’s a great way to meet area professionals, at all levels.  Another idea is to find a business association that interests you, such as a technology group, advertising or marketing association. I’ve been a member of the Women in Cable Telecommunications Association (WICT) for over 20 years and have served on the Board of Directors for the Southeast Chapter for over a decade. The reason I make this a priority is to continue growing my leadership skills, and connect with women and men in the media industry while building and expanding my network!  Additionally, I suggest getting involved in some volunteer capacity with an organization whose mission/focus resonates with you, as this lends to even richer connections and a deeper network.

The hardest part of networking is starting a conversation with someone you don’t know. I’ve found the easiest entry is looking for someone else who is not actively engaged in conversation – there is always someone by themselves. Walk up, introduce yourself and say “This is first time I’ve been here…have you ever come to this event before?”…and off the conversation goes from there.  When you meet someone of interest, share your business cards, mention that you’ll follow-up and would enjoy meeting sometime soon for coffee. Networking is not simply about collecting business cards, it’s about connecting and “net-building” over time.

If you need help building your communication skills and ability to connect – especially as a new business professional, I urge you to seek help. I see many stagnant careers because people aren’t comfortable in the arena. Seek out ways to improve this important competency. One method is to explore SelfLink.com – Speakeasy’s micro-learning portal for new, emerging talent. Through this eLearning portal, you’ll start to build personal awareness and growth around your communication which you can apply to your networking strategy.

Kathy Hatala

SVP National Accounts, Speakeasy

and Managing Director, SelfLink

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