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Beyond Business Cards: Unconventional Networking Tips for Building Authentic Connections

In business, we are often told to network as a vital way to advance career and professional success. Attend an event here, exchange pleasantries and business cards, go to a ribbon cutting there, or an after-hours event filled with wine, hors d'oeuvres, and small talk. I am not saying to ditch this traditional approach to networking. I love going out and supporting other local businesses and meeting new people as much as the next extrovert; however, in today's dynamic business landscape, the value of authentic, meaningful relationships cannot be overstated. Here are a few unconventional networking tips that go beyond the traditional methods, focusing on building genuine and long-lasting connections that foster mutual growth and support in the professional world.

Unconventional Networking Tips

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In today's digital era, social media platforms offer a wealth of opportunities for connecting with professionals globally. Among these, LinkedIn stands out as a leading professional networking platform. Whether you're seeking a new career, acquiring new skills, connecting with professionals who understand your industry's challenges and successes, or strengthening existing professional relationships, LinkedIn is a highly recommended tool. Your social media networking strategy should involve engaging in authentic conversations, sharing valuable industry insights, and supporting your online communities, all of which can lead to meaningful and lasting connections.

Traditional meet-and-greet gatherings are still an excellent way to make new connections; however, rather than solely relying on these events, consider hosting your own specialized event. Think workshops and seminars centered around niche topics relevant to your industry or big industry wins, such as developing a new program, celebrated by hosting a launch party. Taking this approach can attract professionals who want more in-depth discussions and industry insights, allowing you to form relationships with those interested in your field.

My favorite unconventional networking strategy is establishing a mentorship. A mentorship program is a powerful way to develop deep, meaningful connections. You may think that after ten years in your field, you know all there is and you don't need someone to tell you what to do. But even Albert Einstein needed his mentor, Max Talmey. Whether you are new to the industry and seeking to increase your knowledge and understanding, being promoted to a new position, or embarking on your entrepreneurship journey, you should consider a mentor. Ideally, your mentor will be someone who shares a similar professional outlook and has accomplished the goals you hope to achieve. By pairing up with an experienced professional, you can expect a newfound sense of confidence, guidance, knowledge, expertise, and a strong sense of community and support.

Authenticity in Networking

Regardless of the purpose, building connections through networking should always stem from a place of authenticity. Simply shaking hands, sharing your name and business, and launching into a sales pitch won't suffice. In today's digital era, the possibilities for conducting business globally are endless. So, why should someone choose to do business with you? Authentic networking hinges on your sincerity and openness. Be genuine in your interactions and transparent about your intentions. Share your values, inspire with your background, or discuss desired goals, personal or professional. Being your authentic self fosters trust and lays a strong foundation for meaningful connections. 

Effective networking involves more than a one-time meet and greet. It requires time and nurturing. Following up with your contacts demonstrates your commitment to building the connection and developing a relationship. Your follow-up should be different from sales pitches or constant self-promotion. Did this person post something on social media you can connect with them about, such as a mutual love for hiking? Drop a supportive comment or message inquiry about the hiking photos they shared. Keep an open line of communication that lets the connection know you're still there and invested in them. Rarely do I have someone approach me and say, "I want to do business with you. Take my money!"

More often than not, the clients I serve are people I have taken months to connect with. Does it make the sales process seem slow? Absolutely - if you're looking at it from the perspective of numbers. But my clients are not numbers to me. They are people I have taken the time to get to know and want to work with. Laying the groundwork for long-term connections ensures neither party regrets signing the contract.

Nurturing Relationships

There are two ways you can nurture your relationships, become an active listener, and provide value to your network. 

Many people struggle with active listening. In fact, in most conversations, people only listen to one another to respond. More often than not, that response is something they have curated before the other person has even finished talking. Active listening requires you to listen to the person you are conversing with entirely, comprehend what they are saying, respond to what was said, and retain the information. To be a good active listener, practice these skills:

  • Show your interest by making eye contact.

  • Paraphrase what was said in the opening of your response, "I heard you say...., and I agree with..." 

  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage further response. 

  • If you need clarification, ask for it.

  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues. 

I cannot stress this point enough: active listening is understanding, not responding. It cultivates genuine connections by showing genuine interest in others' perspectives and experiences. When you actively listen to someone, you are not just hearing their words, but understanding their thoughts and feelings. This level of understanding is what truly fosters meaningful relationships in the professional world. *Side note: active listening skills are beneficial for personal relationships, too!

Nurturing your professional relationships is about a mutual exchange of value. Be supportive or provide valuable insights whenever the opportunity presents itself. If they have an upcoming fundraising event, go and show your support for their cause! If you cannot attend the event, share it on social media with your network. Any show of support is always appreciated and valued. By contributing positively to the growth and success of your connections, you can strengthen your professional relationships. 

Summing it Up: Authentic Connections

The networking landscape is evolving, and the value of authentic, meaningful connections in the professional world has never been more significant. Embracing unconventional networking tips, such as leveraging social media for genuine interactions, hosting specialized events, and prioritizing mentorship, allows individuals to build relationships that go beyond surface-level interactions. By emphasizing authenticity, honest communication, and active listening, professionals can nurture genuine connections that pave the way for collaborative opportunities, personal growth, and long-term support. Incorporating these unconventional and authentic networking strategies can lead to a network of trusted connections that provide professional support, inspiration, and opportunities for mutual advancement. The future of networking lies in the cultivation of meaningful relationships, and by embracing unconventional strategies, professionals can thrive in a network built on authenticity and genuine connections.


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