How to Build Networking Relationships

By Dana Healy

Moving to a new state has challenges. Moving from Boston to Minnesota, I didn’t know I would have to learn hot dish recipes, or take time off to attend a fair, or where exactly “up north” is.

But aside from assimilating, I had to abandon the networking relationships  I spent 15 years building in Massachusetts. This was the most daunting part of moving across country–and I have two kids under 5.

A well-developed network of is extremely valuable. I have been building a network from scratch since July 2018, and I want to share some “Rookie Mistakes” I’ve made, along with what I’ve learnt, to help you build an effective network.

Rookie Mistake #1 – All Networking Events Are Valuable

Not all networking events are created equal. When I first landed in Minnesota, I carpet bombed attendance to all networking events. On some level, I needed to understand the environment to then pick the right events to attend. I needed to meet government officials. I was not going to find them at BNI groups.

Main Take Away – Identify who you want to meet first, and then look for the events they go to.

Rookie Mistake #2 – You Have Time

When I first got to my new job, I wanted to get everything done as soon as possible. I attended every event, city council meeting, open house, you name it. This is a terrible tactic.

Self-care was out the window; stress was through the roof. When I attended the networking events, I was exhausted. I could not make quality connections.

Main Take Away – Have self-awareness when you attend these events. If you are a morning person, focus on morning events. Your first impression is important.

Rookie Mistake #3 – Stay Comfortable

We fall into habits of attending the monthly networking event where we see the same people. Nothing extraordinary every comes from being comfortable.

I attended a luncheon where municipalities were awarded on innovative projects. No one in my field was there. No one from my particular cities were there either. I knew no one. But, as luck would have it, I was seated with a table of clients that our organization was providing services for. These clients then introduced me to other government officials and staffers.

Main Take Away – Lean into uncomfortable situations, it provides growth opportunities.

Rookie Mistake #4 – Misaligned Brand Message

CTV North Suburbs went through massive change in 2018 and 2019. We developed a new mission, discontinued public access facilities, and mounted new efforts to become fiscally self-sustaining without PEG fees.

We were in uncharted territories, so naturally our brand message was misaligned. How misaligned? My coworker and I would talk to the same people and they thought we worked at different companies…awesome. We needed to do some serious soul searching and copy writing to define our brand message properly.

Main Take Away – Develop your brand message and get on communicate with your team. Practice your message so you are prepared to network anywhere.

Rookie Mistake #5 – Thinking Everyone Wants to Talk to You

I’m pretty friendly. I think everyone wants to also be friendly. Not the case. Nothing is worse than being iced out of a conversation or introducing yourself only for it not to be responded to (yeah, that can happen). Body language is really important skill to learn in networking. Notice how people are standing together. Are they closed off? Is there an open space for an additional person?

Main Take Away – Scan the room and identify the people you want to talk to, then take notice of a proper opportunity to initiate contact.

Rookie Mistake #6 – Transactional Behavior

Approaching any relationship with a “what’s in it for me?” attitude never works out. Networking is all about relationships. People can sense if you just want to use them. Bring more value to the relationship than you get.

When I leave a one on one meeting, I ask “What do you need right now? What can I help you with?” People are so surprised with this question.

Always bring more value. Some tactics I use:

  1. Make a connection that they would benefit from.
  2. Send an article that they may be interested in.
  3. If you used their services, record a video testimony about the experience.

That kind of effort is above and beyond. People remember that. Be patient. Think of networking like farming, not hunting. You are planting seeds to harvest later.

Main Take Away – Bring the most value in every relationship.

Rookie Mistake #7 – Not Prioritizing the One on One

True relationships are built during one on one meetings. Research the person and develop thoughtful questions. These meetings should be a priority and well-planned. Get to know them as people. Some questions I lean into are:

  1. Why are you passionate about what you do?
  2. How did you first get started?
  3. What is the biggest challenge you have with xyz?

Take time to learn about them and their work. Review their social media accounts. Check their LinkedIn account for mutual connections. They will notice if you have put time into learning about them.

When I first moved to Minnesota, I knew no one. Once I started having one on ones with people, I would attend networking events where I would deeply know five or six people. They would introduce me to other people in an informed and thoughtful way. I now meet people who know of me before we even speak. That is a big change for me professionally.

Main Take Away – Prioritize and prepare for the one on one meetings.

Rookie Mistake #8 – No Agenda

I love the phrase “No Agenda, No Attenda.” It is so true! When you’re running a company, time is valuable. Agendas are critical to keep on point. I use agendas for one on one meetings! How crazy is that?

One on one meetings are important, but they take time. People may not want to take a meeting if they think they will be in a sales pitch for an hour, especially a c-suit executive or a legislator. I will personally not take a meeting without a specific objective. Just don’t have the time.

Be clear with your expectations of the meeting including how long it will be and specifically what you want to talk about. The more specific you can be, the better they can prepare. Make sure your agenda shows value in the conversation.

Main Take Away – Be transparent with your intentions of the meeting.

Rookie Mistake #9 – Lack of Patience

Networking is a long game. We are building relationships and providing value as we move through our professional worlds. A connection may not yield any type of metric for you now, or ever. But they could connect you to the person you need to know. Take time to build a quality network, and don’t give up the “give value” mindset.

Main Take Away – You are farming, not hunting. Be patient.

Rookie Mistake #10 – No Follow Through

I attended a speed round of networking and met 30 people. I emailed every single person with something of value that I spoke to them about. I was amazed by how little response I received with those 30 emails. Was it me? Maybe. More likely, people viewed this networking as an isolated event, not a springboard to build relationships.

You know what? The two vendors that did connect back with me, I used for services. Additionally, I have built relationships with them.

Main Take Away – The networking event is a springboard. The real connections happen after.

I have a hundred networking fails, wins, and cringe worthy moments. Those will bring laughs more than value. What rookie mistake have you seen or experienced networking? Comment, email, or DM on social.