Networking: How to make connections that count
Networking through traditional business and civic organizations still exists, but it’s just one way to build relationships with clients, peers and mentors.
- Online networking isn’t going away just because in-person events are back.
- Connecting over shared interests can be a natural way to expand one's network.
- A mix of formal and informal networking approaches, both online and in-person, can maximize opportunities.
When a global pandemic shut down in-person conferences and meetings, many professionals turned to online networking opportunities. Now, with the world largely back to normal, real estate agents must be dining at Rotary lunches and socializing face-to-face at Chamber of Commerce happy hours – or are they?
“Many of those formal, in-person networking opportunities are back,” says Michelle Tillis Lederman, networking expert and author of “The Connector's Advantage: 7 Mindsets to Grow Your Influence and Impact.” But they’re no longer the only game in town. “I don’t think they’ll ever go away completely, but I doubt they’ll be what they once were because we now have so many more avenues through which to connect.”
Social media facilitates ‘efficient’ networking
Seattle agent Andrew Hafzalla wonders if networking through local business and civic organizations is a generational thing. “It feels like an old-school way to get your name out there,” he says. “I’ve got little kids and a really busy work schedule. I’ve got to connect in the most efficient, effective ways I can. Weekly or even monthly meetings that take a couple hours out of my day just aren’t doable for me.”
For Hafzalla, connections often come through industry Facebook groups. “Those groups don’t necessarily feed you a buyer, but it’s a way to stay current and learn from other agents who are better than me.”
Common interests create natural networks
Santa Clarita, California, team leader Cyndi Lesinski believes the best networking occurs when people connect over a shared passion. “Rather than looking for business organizations to join, I encourage my team members to connect with people who have common interests,” she says.
When Lesinski took up running, for example, she joined several running groups. “The conversations that take place in those groups have resulted in more genuine and natural connections than if I went to a luncheon with some random business people. Did I join with the goal of getting more business? Not at all. But people want to do business with people they like and with whom they have things in common. People have been ‘doing business on the golf course’ for decades. This is the same sort of thing.”
‘Prioritize relationships’ for long-term connections
No matter how or where you’re doing it, Lederman says people network because they have a need: They want a client or a job or an introduction. “Instead of networking, I encourage people to connect and prioritize relationships,” she says. “When you build connections, you really get to know people and you build relationships that are stronger and more reliable. It’s a matter of shifting your thinking from short-term need to long-term relationship building.”
She says virtual networking opportunities work great if organizers and participants are intentional about them. Simply signing on and listening to a speaker or getting down to business doesn’t allow for connecting time. Pre-meeting socials, Zoom lunches or virtual cocktail hours can allow for informal socializing. Online networking can save time and allows access to connections beyond a specific geographic region.
Still, in-person networking has its advantages. “Face-to-face meetings can allow for deeper, more meaningful relationships,” Lederman says. “Plus, making connections is typically faster in person.
“The great thing is you don’t have to decide between the two. You can connect both in-person and online. You can connect at Kiwanis and Rotary, at the gym or the dog park,” she says. “Be open, be present, be curious, and chances are you’ll make the sorts of connections that matter.”