For many people, networking is critical for professional and/or business development and online networking is a huge component. By “online networking”, I don’t mean seeing how many LinkedIn connections you can get, “liking” lots of other people’s posts, or having accounts on every new social media channel that launches; I’m talking quality over quantity.
Now, to some extent, networking of any kind has a numbers component—you meet and talk to many more people than actually become valuable contacts or clients—but by applying a targeted, thoughtful and authentic approach, you can make your online networking efforts much more successful. Here are five tips to help you make the most of online networking.
1.Start local. This one may seem counterintuitive when using a global tool like the internet and in many situations, it makes a lot of sense to reach beyond your immediate geography. However, when you’re getting started with online networking, connecting with people in your own backyard first has its advantages: people may be more likely to connect with you if you’re local, you have a better shot at getting a face-to-face meeting, and building a solid network locally helps establish quality connections to build from later.
2.Find a personal connection or shared point of reference. When seeking out people to connect with, start with what you may have in common—for example, hometown, alma mater, previous employers, clubs/organizations, volunteering/causes, etc. Referencing whatever common ground you may have with a prospect helps instantly build rapport and give them a reason to connect with you. Relevant professional connections are best because they also offer some implied credibility, but even personal connections can at least be a conversation starter.
3.Why this person? When reaching out to someone you don’t yet know, it’s very important to have a clear reason why you want to meet this specific person. This goes beyond shared background—there are lots of people who share an alma mater or previous employer—this is giving the person a reason why you need them specifically and therefore, they will be more likely to give you some of their valuable time. For example, perhaps you are considering a career move from a large company to a startup and you identify someone who followed a similar career path, lives locally, and shares your passion for great user experience—share that with your prospective contact and they’ll understand why you want to speak to them and be more likely to want to help.
4.What specifically are you asking for? It’s a good practice to put some thought behind this question before any meeting, but particularly when you’re asking to meet with a new contact. This helps you clearly structure the request and gives the prospect a distinct idea of what you’re looking for and if/how they can help. Personally, I cringe when I receive a coffee meeting or networking request that’s as a vague as, “I’d like to meet you” or “I’d like to pick your brain”. Instead, state as specifically as you can what you would like to learn or discuss or anything else you’re hoping to get out of the connection.
5. Ask for the meeting. Just connecting with someone on LinkedIn does not a valuable contact make. If there’s someone you want to learn from, get help from or otherwise has something you want, you must actually talk to the person, preferably face-to-face (or via video chat if needed). A friend recently asked for some networking advice including constructing an email to a new professional contact. I coached him on the points outlined above and we concluded the note with a request to meet over coffee. He was a little nervous about sending it, to which I responded, “the worst thing that happens is he says no.” He laughed and agreed. The bottom line is: you’ll be pleasantly surprised how often people will say yes if you just ask.
When you do write that first note, here are a few more tips for success. Use their professional email address whenever possible; personal email is next best and only use social media messaging if you absolutely must. In your note, use a “friendly formal” tone—sound like you’re an actual human (vs. a generic script), but keep it professional. And finally, follow-up! If you don’t get a response the first time, I suggest writing at least two more notes before giving up (people get busy, emails get buried). Even then, I’ve personally gotten responses months after my original note!
We all have clients. Whether you’re in a corporate setting, a supplier or consultancy, or work independently or freelance, your clients are your bosses, team leaders, functional heads, customers, and other stakeholders. We’ve all experienced a spectrum of positive and negative client experiences, and by taking a closer look at these ups and downs—and evaluating what works and what doesn’t—I’ve identified three steps you can take to build better clients:
1. Build a Better Brief
The biggest disappointments in client relationships tend to come from missed expectations. Perhaps they weren’t stated clearly by the client, understood clearly by the person doing the work, or, sometimes, the client hasn’t taken the time to think through what they really do want. In any case, a better brief can help.
Depending on your specific role, a brief could be a request for proposal, a creative brief, a project charter, etc. Whatever form it takes, there are a few critical questions that should always be addressed:
2. Build in Enough Time
A common mistake in creating project timelines is to underestimate the time required for activities outside the project itself. These include things like: upfront briefing and alignment, check-ins and updates along the way, reviews and feedback (potentially multiple rounds), and follow ups after initial project completion. The consequence of not building in adequate time for these things ranges from missed deadlines to compromised quality to going over budget—or getting underpaid.
To increase the accuracy of your timelines, draw on past project experience (your own and/or getting input from other team members) and think through the times that felt rushed, required trade-offs, and were otherwise unanticipated time-draws. This isn’t about creating padded or unnecessarily long timelines; by planning for these connection and feedback points up front, you can often be more efficient overall, or at least more accurate.
If you’re in a consulting or supplier role, try keeping track of time spent by type of activity (e.g. project work vs. client meetings, etc.) and keep a record for each project, which will help you better estimate for future projects over time. Regularly updating project timelines with actual dates and keeping them on file for future reference will help in corporate settings.
Robust, accurate and well-planned project timelines set appropriate expectations up front with clients, allow clients to be better prepared to provide inputs and feedback, and allow you to delight clients by delivering on time, as promised.
3. Build Relationships
Chatting and small talk don’t come naturally to everyone (myself included), but spending a bit of time on pleasantries adds an element of human connection that not only makes interactions more enjoyable, but also increases trust and sharing—and increases the odds that you’ll get the benefit of the doubt if needed. Remember when you’re writing an email that there’s an actual person on the other end and use a more conversational tone when appropriate. Open a phone call or in-person meeting with a couple of minutes of informal conversation. Gauge your audience of course—some people will be eager to get down to business and others would be happy to talk about their hobbies or kids for hours, but a sincere interest in your client as a person tends to go a long way.
Understand and respect their professional context and preferences as well. Find out how they prefer to communicate, certain days or times that are best to reach them or other facts that will make your communication more efficient and customized. Getting some context on who their key clients are, the priority of the project within their total responsibilities or within the overall organization, etc. will allow you to appear savvy and in-touch as well as helping you become a go-to, strategic business partner.
Practice professional empathy with your clients. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand their motivations and priorities. This can help you proactively tailor messages and deliverables and give you context to understand feedback and reactions. You’ll obviously invest more in building relationships with clients who are ongoing business partners or regular customers, but practice these approaches on a smaller scale with potential or new clients, in a sincere and authentic way, and they might just end up becoming ongoing clients (or key internal advocates) as well!
Do you remember getting new school supplies as a child at the start of each school year? The perfection of newly sharpened pencils with pristine erasers, the intoxicating smell of those fruit-scented markers, and the sharp crack of a hardback textbook’s spine the first time you opened it.
Well, it’s back to school time and for most of us, those are fairly distant memories. However, dear reader, I believe we share a love of lifetime learning so here for your reading enjoyment is a list of books I recommend for insights on innovation. If you come across one that’s new to you and decide to read it, I hope you will find a bit of inspiration or a nugget of knowledge to apply in the year to come and beyond.
1. A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger: explore the art of questioning and its application for innovation. Berger provides some simple frameworks to successfully use questioning and interesting examples of innovators whose inquiries led to breakthroughs.
2. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Eric Ries: the Lean Startup primer for anyone interested in entrepreneurship or innovation in general; somewhat technology industry focused, but principles are more broadly applicable.
3. Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works, Ash Maurya: valuable for startups; he builds on concepts from other thinkers in space (e.g. Eric Ries and Steve Blank) but gives many more practical tips and real world examples for applying lean startup principles.
4. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman: a seminal work for anyone interested in why people do what they do. Fair warning, this one is long and a bit dry and academic in parts, but I think it’s still worth it for a deep and thorough understanding of System 1 vs. System 2 thinking.
5. Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results, Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg: I read this one as part of the Innovation & Design MOOC offered by University of Cincinnati, but the book stands alone as as instruction manual for creative brainstorming techniques that work.
6. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, Tim Brown: Conceptual book about design thinking with lots of IDEO examples. This isn’t a “how to” book—there’s not a lot of practical application tips, but it does have great examples from a range of companies and is fun to read.
7. The Myths of Creativity: The Truth about How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas, David Burkus: Insightful and inspiring book about creativity, useful for both individuals and entire organizations. Debunks common creativity myths and gives the message that everyone can be creative.
8. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath and Dan Heath: a great idea is only great if you can get others to remember and act on it so this book gives lots of ways to make ideas “stickier” with lots of fun examples.
9. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel Pink: I read this several years ago and I feel like I have already seen the trends shifting as he predicts and believe they will only accelerate as we continue to move from the “information” to the “conceptual” age.
10. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini: This book is all about how to get people to say "yes". I actually read this book in college and still reference what I learned from it—it’s the essential guide to persuasion for marketers and market researchers.
Bonus Reads: For My Fellow Researchers
11. Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, Sam Gosling: a psychologist’s take on what you can learn about people based on their stuff. It explores the connection between belongings and the “big five” personality traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeability, and Neuroticism). Great read for those who regularly conduct ethnographic/observational research.
12. Nickel & Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Barbara Ehrenreich: I recommend this book for exercising your empathy muscle and getting a unique take on anthropological research. The author tells the story of her experiment to live on poverty-level wages for a time. While this book is not without detractors (namely that the experiment was conducted by an otherwise wealthy white woman who got to go back to her “real life”), I think it still paints a compelling portrait of a specific life experience.
Did I miss one of your favorites? I’d love to get some of your top recommendations too so please leave a comment to this post with one of your favorite innovation titles.
Note: I provided hyperlinks to each book on Amazon purely for convenience, but of course, I also recommend checking your local library or independent bookstore.
Sarah Faulkner, Principal, Faulkner Strategic Consulting