One of the Social Media groups I joined in 2012 was a group called 10,000 Coffees. The premise of this group is connecting young people just launching their careers who could benefit from guidance, mentoring and career counselling with experts across a wide field of careers. How is this done? Sitting down face-to-face or over a computerized networking platform.
Last week I was contacted by a young and enthusiastic man named Eli. Eli is motivated and in the future sees himself eventually running several large corporations. I’m going to skip over the actual dreams he has and speak more to the process and how beneficial this might be for you.
So like I said, Eli contacted me via the website which sent me an email advising that I had an invitation waiting. I was delighted when my suggestion of a face-to-face meeting at a local bistro was accepted, and it was just this last Friday that we arranged to meet for an hour chat. The first thing that impressed me was that he showed up on time. I am notorious for arriving early everywhere I have to be, leaving time for unforeseen problems and delays. I had enough time to grab us a table, order a tea and relax.
When my young colleague arrived, he had a bounce in his step, and broke into a wide grin with an extended hand once we confirmed our identities to each other. So far he was off to an excellent beginning making a positive first impression on me and the fact that he had a pen and notebook was a bonus too. It is absolutely true what they say about the first few critical moments when you meet someone.
Now such a meeting can go in any number of directions. I could either relinquish or seize control in the discussion, and being the ‘expert’ as one is referred to in this relationship by the 10,000 Coffee’s people, I opted to seize control and initiate the discussion. The first thing I thought appropriate was to ask him what he wanted to get out of the hour together; anything specific he wanted to know or help he was looking for. This strategy shows the other person that you are aware and conscious of the fact that they initiated the connection and are deferring to them wanting to help them best by giving them a chance to tell you exactly what it is they are hoping to get out the talk.
In Eli’s case, he mentioned that what he was doing was trying to meet with many different mentor’s and experts in an attempt to gather different views on his business idea which he is launching with two other people. He didn’t come with a business plan, but he did give a rough outline of a three-pronged approach the company would be using to improve the lives of youth in our geographic area.
One of the things I had personally done ahead of our meeting is to look up his LinkedIn profile. In a matter of 5 to 10 seconds, I quickly deduced there were at least 15 things I could do for him that would improve this self-branding. So what I put before him was his own printed profile with notes written on it, plus a printed profile of someone else I’ve never met but whose background is close to his own. The second profile had some fleshing-out on it that was near to what I was recommending he aspire to, and it seemed rather self-serving to point out my own profile. As it turns out, like so many young people, he had been told in school about the need to have a LinkedIn profile, but not how to use it or how to actually enrich it. Therefore, he had created one and had no idea what it could do for him or conversely how a poor one could inhibited others from dealing with him.
After our LinkedIn chat, we turned the conversation more to his ideas and I gave him feedback on those ideas from the perspective of someone who works in the Social Services sector, and who has a background in both being self-employed and has helped work with organizations that serve youth. The best thing I heard him say was that he was already connected to and working with a local organization that helps entrepreneurs get started. They would give him the hands-on help he’d need to develop the business plan, point out obvious pitfalls and discuss how existing competition would impact on his business.
When we departed, we each left with each other’s business cards. I say cards, because one of the things I shared with Eli is that I make it a point to give people not one but two business cards of my own whenever appropriate; one to keep and one to pass on. This simple act results in word of mouth referrals which are often the strongest.
Once back at the workplace, I fired off a quick email to Eli thanking him for the opportunity to meet with him and his kind invitation. I also requested that if he felt so compelled I would appreciate a brief recommendation via LinkedIn to add to my own profile thereby strengthening it. After all, while this isn’t my main concern, it does show him how you obtain recommendations and that could help him immensely as he currently has none of his own.
And that’s how you network effectively. Good for you Eli.