Networking Essentials: Warming Connections
With limited in-person events, you'll find many new barriers and obstacles to networking. Everyone faces one glaring challenge -- how to turn a cold connection into a warm one. When you cultivate your current network to connect you with new people, you'll find greater success than going it alone. What is a Cold Connection and why is it bad?A cold connection, or cold call, is an unsolicited request to connect or act when you don't already know the person or have common ground to work from. These attempts to connect can be off-putting to the receiver, who is more likely to decline or even ignore your connection, request, or ask because it feels “cold.” In order to warm yourself up to people, you should find a mutual connection to help with the introduction. This is where your network comes into play.Identify Your Current Network Stakeholders1. Who do I already know?Create a spreadsheet or database of everyone who you consider part of your personal network. This should include friends, current co-workers, past colleagues, mentors, etc. Include how you met, where they currently work, perhaps some of their past employment history, email address, phone number, address, birthday, social media accounts, and any other information you would find helpful to remember.2. Divide that list into two categoriesEveryone you are connected to in some way can be defined as part of your inner circle or your outer circle. Your inner circle is likely family and close friends who you go to for very personal advice and counsel. They're likely to have your best interests in mind, but may not always give the best advice. They also might not always be willing to mix business and pleasure. This is why you should have an outer circle too.Your outer circle contains your coworkers, friends, and colleagues at other organizations or businesses, bartenders at your regular happy hour spot, fellow Junior League members, etc. While you may not interact with them on a regular basis, these individuals, statistically, are more likely to connect you with other people than your inner circle ever will. You'll soon realize it is of mutual benefit to you and other members of your outer circle to enjoy a healthy reciprocation of IOUs and, as Morton Blackwell says, you should not keep a careful tally. Now that you have your network mapped out, let's work on that cold call.Three Ways to Turn a Cold Call into a Connection 1. Determine if the person you're trying to contact is a connection to someone in your network.The warmest connections will always come through your friends and network. Ask your friends to introduce you to people you want to connect with. An introduction increases your social credibility to new connections.If you are running a conference and you're looking for a speaker for a specific topic, you might learn that an executive at another organization would be perfect for it. Unfortunately, your attempt to send an unsolicited email will likely be met with silence. The smart networker will notice they have a former colleague who works at that organization and ask them if they would be willing to make an introduction.2. Build your reputation in mutual interest groups.Another way to warm a connection is to connect through mutual interests. Post in multiple online groups, comment on posts, and use relevant hashtags so your name becomes more familiar before you send a connection request.You may see a job opening on a company's website, but you want to know more before applying. Unfortunately, there isn't an email address listed, so you can't reach out to someone in the organization. You think you'll be clever and find someone who works there on Facebook and message them for more info but unbeknownst to you, they don't read messages in their “other” inbox and find it invasive when job seekers try to contact them in that way. Luckily, you know there are some standard industry Facebook groups and a few of the staff of that company are members, so you join too. When you start to engage in the conversation and interact with them, you end up bringing new people into your outer circle. You can then use this mutual group to get help from someone in your network. 3. Send a personal messageLastly, you can warm a cold connection when you send a personalized message along with your request -- especially on LinkedIn or by e-mail. Your message should emphasize the motivation behind the connection request and make the recipient feel special by emphasizing their skills or talents as well as the value you will provide them. Do your research to find out what that message should look like for each unique contact. You can note the exchange of industry knowledge, quality content, future introductions to people of interest, or even how they'll make a difference in a field they care about.You could be growing your small consulting business and come across a business you think would do well to pay for your services. Unfortunately, it happened by chance, and you don't know anyone who works there and don't know any groups to which the owner belongs. But what you do have is a knowledge of their industry. You know what you can do to help them, successes you've had with similar clients, how success would look for them, and the overall benefits they'll get from working with you. If you are able to truly tailor your initial contact request to them, you're much more likely to get a response. The TakeawayContinue to cultivate your existing network and always be courteous. The key to warm up a connection is to make connecting feel natural. Find common ground, connections, or interests.Make sure you continue to provide useful content, value, and quality conversations to your network. If you have a big ask, now or in the future, it will not feel like it is coming from a needy stranger, but from a helpful friend or connection.And remember, even if someone declines a request, make sure you thank them for their time. Courtesy can go a long way and leave a memorable and positive impression.