When you think of networking, you probably picture a bunch of professionals in suits passing around business cards while they eat finger foods. In reality, networking is something that can happen during a trip to a grocery store in your yoga pants. No matter where you network, these contacts you create could make or break your career. Confused? Let's break it down.
What Does it Mean to Network?
For starters, let's talk about the term "networking." According to Merriam-Webster, networking is, "the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically, the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business." Essentially, it means making a connection/mentorship with a person or group of people who can mutually benefit from one another's insight into business. If you just graduated from beauty school, you probably don't think you have much to offer someone who has successfully run a business for years. Believe it or not, they're just as interested in learning from you as you are from them. Before we dig into the "how" there are a few steps you should take to make sure you're ready to network.
Preparing to Network
Step #1: Business Cards
Order business cards. Not only do they help connections get in contact with you, but they can be personalized to help them remember your interaction. When it comes to designing your cards, you don't have to stick with rectangular cards either. Check out sites like Moo and Vistaprint to get yours printed.
This is an awesome way to get the cards you WANT. Keep the design consistent with your brand, as these are the cards you will hand out to other professionals you want to connect with. When first looking for a job, you may want to consider ordering cards with just your name, social media handles, email, and, phone number listed. Everyone you meet will remember you because of your unique cards and you’ll be able to use these for years, regardless of your job, because they’re branded for you, not a business.
Step #2. Always Keep a Handful of Cards on You
Keep at least ten in your wallet or bag. Every time you go out, whether it's to a bar, spin class, or coffee shop, have a few on you. You never know who you're going to meet.
Step #3. Make it Personal
Let's say you have a great conversation with someone, and you decide to exchange information. Write a short message ON your card about your interaction. For example, maybe you talked about an upcoming sale a barista is having at her shop. Write, "Hope your event goes well!” and sign your name on the card. Because you're in this industry you know people respond to people; putting your handwriting on your card and making notes about your conversation will make your contact remember you and be more willing to get together and discuss business in the future. It’s also a good idea, to make notes on the back of their card to help you remember the conversation you had.
Step #4. Know Yourself
This step might seem strange: how can you not know yourself? What this means, is know your goals, your skill set, and your weaknesses. If you know what you're good at, where you want to be, and what you need help with, you know how your skills can benefit someone else and what someone else can help teach you. This allows you to go into conversations already thinking about the potential mutual benefits.
Step #5. Do Your Homework
If you're preparing to go to an event where you'll have an opportunity to make connections (a trade show, salon or spa open house, a young professional’s mixer in your city) research some of the people who might attend. Maybe there's a colorist you follow on Instagram that's going to have a booth at a trade show. You love his color melt technique and really wish you knew how to create the same effect on your clients. Make it your plan to introduce yourself at the show and to specifically mention your admiration for his technique. Chat for a bit and end the conversation by asking if you could have his contact information in case you run into issues down the line. He'll likely agree and you two can exchange information. By going into a networking event with a game plan, you're preparing yourself not only to meet people but to create lasting connections that can really boost your career.
The Art of Conversation
Imagine this: You're talking to another beauty professional on the trade show floor. The DJ is blasting club music, the air is thick with hairspray, and across the room, you see your stylist idol at their booth talking with a fan. You bought your tickets for this show months ago and you're prepared to network. The only problem? You don't know how to start a conversation with someone you don’t know.
Networking is 30% preparation, 50% conversation, and 20% follow-up. Making that connection with someone is the hardest part, but also the most meaningful. Likely, if you're in this industry, you're a people person. You enjoy chatting with clients and are comfortable working the salon floor. But talking with someone who's a stranger, or worse, someone you admire can be tough.
Here's how to perfect the art of conversation.
People like to connect with people, not stiff robots who talk like they're reading from a script. When having a conversation with someone, share information about yourself to ease into a conversation. This could sound like, "Hi! My name is (insert your first and last name) I'm a junior stylist; I just started last summer. This is my first time at this show. Have you come before?" This opens the conversation for whomever you're talking with to share about his or her self and to start a conversation.
While prepping to network, think about the skills you need to work on or your short-term goals. Do you need more practice painting balayage or want to become involved with a charitable organization or a private Facebook group? Find someone involved with these groups or who's a pro at the skill you need help with and ask them about their work. Not only will you learn more about the organization/group/skill you're interested in, but the person you're talking with might be the one who can get you added to that secret Facebook group or to the email list for the Stylists Against Cancer committee.
Make a Friend
Make this your go-to move when you’re alone at a networking event. Once you've started chatting with someone, it's time to take your connection to the next level. Maybe there's a photo booth at the conference or an auction at one of the booths. Say, "Hey! Have you been to the photo booth yet? I'm heading there now and would love some company." This makes you seem approachable and inclusive and makes your new connection feel welcomed. Your kindness will be remembered long after the event has ended.
Prep for the Next Step
Imagine for a moment you’re an industry icon with 20 years of experience under your belt and have people jamming your Instagram inbox with requests to get coffee, be part of your next workshop, etc. Do you feel overwhelmed? You likely do. In order to truly connect with someone, you need to lay the foundation for a relationship to flourish after your networking event/conference, so they'll remember you. By laying the foundation for meaningful interactions, you'll cut through the clutter of fans when you reach out to them.
End your Conversation with an “Ask”
When the conversation is ending, look them in the eye, offer your right hand for a handshake and thank them for the great conversation and be specific. There is a big difference between, "It was great to meet you" vs. "I really enjoyed learning more about your dry cutting technique.” Then follow up with, “Do you mind if I reach out with questions when I try it myself?" This gives you a reason to follow-up with them and prepares your new connection to be on the look-out for your email, phone call, message, etc.
Once you've prepared to network and have practiced some ways to have a great conversation with a potential connection, you need a plan to follow-up. Following up on a connection is the natural next step. Here's how to make sure you perfect this important networking step:
Send Your Friend Request
After leaving the event where you met this person, take the information you collected from them and see what's listed. Do you have their social media accounts on there? Send a friend or follow request. If this makes you super nervous, just remember they gave you their contact information; if they didn't want to connect online, they wouldn't have shared their info!
Send A Personal Note
After they accept your friend or follow request, send a short message with the specifics of meeting them. Include the where, and when you met, if someone introduced you, include their name too. Here’s an example: "It was great meeting you at the XXXX conference this weekend! Hopefully, we run into each other at the next one.” This plants the seed for connecting again in the future. This also jogs their memory and increases your chances of receiving a reply. Only have their email address or phone number? Send a short but sweet email or text that shares the same sentiment.
Nurture Your Connection
You should already have a reason to reach out to the person you spoke with. Did you talk with them about a coloring technique, an upcoming show, a celebrity stylist you both follow on Instagram? That's your talking point in your follow up. Let's be real: you might have no need to have a long follow-up conversation with this connection, but it’s to your advantage to send a meaningful message that lays the foundation for a future meeting or conversation. Who knows what you'll want insight into in the future? If you discussed something specific, mention it in your original message and plant the seeds for a future meeting. If you want to spend more quality time with your connection, tell them! Networking is like dating: if you want to go on a first date, you have to ask. Don't be shy about inviting your connection for coffee or to meet up at the next networking event.
Following these steps is easy but perfecting them takes work. The best way to flex your conversation muscles is to practice. Throw yourself into as many networking opportunities as possible. If you're scared to go alone, bring along a co-worker from your salon or spa or a former beauty school classmate and prep together. Taking these steps is the beginning of many lasting professional connections. Who knows what the future will bring? Perhaps the person you just met could become your mentor, future boss, or co-worker.