It’s called “NetWORK” for a reason.

three girls chatting with their smartphones

By Kathy Buckworth

“I’ll just text them.”

The key word in this sentence is the word “just”. Texting is a terrific way for your tween to ask you for a ride from a friend’s house, for a teen to chat with their BFF’s, or for parents to arrange who is getting the milk on the way home from work. It’s become the most basic form of communication, as evidenced by its short form spelling and grammar.

But as a professional networking tool…it just isn’t one. And as our back and forth methods of communication get more and more behind various screens, versus in front of a face, we’ve seen that it has become easier and easier to be somewhat anonymous. That anonymity has spawned trolls on the internet but the other effect it has had is that is has made professionals somewhat invisible to each other. And you want to be remembered if you are building your business network.

The best networking will always take place face to face. Tom Peters, who co-wrote the bestselling business bible “In Search of Excellence” in 1982, a full ten years before the first text message was sent, nailed down some rules that are still relevant today. These include never wasting a lunch, and writing thank you notes on a Friday. Sound old fashioned? Not necessarily.

The business and networking lunch is alive and well today; you just might not be doing it, or have a big corporate expense account available at your disposal. You don’t need to. Arranging a coffee date can be just as effective in getting in front of your colleagues, peers, and clients.

Writing a thank you note? While #FF’s on Twitter are arguably the modern day equivalent, taking the time to write a note will make you stand out.  An email can suffice, but a hand written note is even more effective.

There has been an interesting transition when it comes to receiving phone calls and voice messages. People today generally don’t like getting phone calls or seeing that voice message light flashing.  It seems more intrusive, and time sensitive.  For new networking opportunities in particular, use email to set up a face to face.  Above all, don’t ask for a meeting over a social media channel.  A Linked In message is private, so using that medium is appropriate. And, for the record, following someone back on Twitter is not “networking”, nor are they now necessarily a part of your network.

If you’re new to an industry or city, you’ll want to find industry events and conferences where you can start a network.  Prepare your “elevator speech” and take along more business cards than you need.  Not everyone wants to receive contact information over their phone.

Forming your own smaller networking group doesn’t have to be hard, but it can be extremely advantageous. Find individuals with similar work styles and ambitions that you feel can complement your skills. Share contacts, experience and knowledge via regular face to face meetings, supplemented with email support and sharing. You don’t have to be doing exactly the same job in the same industry; in fact it can be more worthwhile to seek those in other areas for a better-rounded group.  Set an agenda for each meeting and treat it with professional respect.

Networking doesn’t just happen. Those with large and vibrant networks have worked hard to establish them and, just as importantly, maintain them. Sending a quick “just checking in” email is a great way to maintain an already strong, long standing network contact.  

The “Old Boys’ Club” concept has long been maligned insofar as it suggests an exclusionary, elite club. Which it was. But what it did to well was to allow the members of this club to support each other’s business success. Throw out the words “old” and “boys” and replace it with your own set of demographics. Starting a network when you’re just starting out is ideal, but it’s never too late to work on your network.