Networking is the cornerstone to success in any career.
It opens new avenues and perspectives and creates access to the latest industry news.
Although it’s easy enough to turn a coworker or a peer into a network connection, interacting with those within your direct network will only get you so far.
Everyone has those one or two industry figureheads they look up to in their profession; whether it’s because they have the job they want, are an inspiring leader, or are simply impressive.
Connecting with someone you admire is a bit more daunting. But there is actually a right way (and a wrong way) to go about it.
To begin a natural professional relationship regardless of hierarchy, follow these three simple steps:
1. Make yourself known on social media
Keeping tabs on people of interest on LinkedIn allows you to get to know them over time, including their views, passions, projects and industry activities. When you are ready to reach out, your insights will ensure you are well placed to do so.
After setting up a professional profile of your own, begin by interacting with them online. This could include connecting or following their profile, liking posts, re-sharing, commenting with insightful questions and comments, or creating your own content to share with them. This rapport will either naturally progress to a professional relationship, or facilitate you taking the next step and asking them for a coffee or a working lunch.
2. Compose a convincing introductory message
Sending your first personal message to an industry contact can be one of the biggest hurdles to meaningful professional connections simply because it is such a daunting task. Whether it is over LinkedIn, email or another medium, start by seeing the message as a sales pitch, selling yourself as a worthwhile contact.
Make sure to keep it succinct, professional and insightful for your best chance at a response. To help you get started here is a basic structure to follow when composing your message:
- See the subject line as your first impression.
Pique their interest or curiosity by making your subject line short but compelling, ideally with a specific reference to them. For example, ‘Reflecting on your work on…’, ‘Continuing our conversation from the [insert name of conference/networking event]’, ‘From a friend of [insert name of mutual contact]’.
- Start the message by addressing them correctly.
Based on your previous rapport with them, make a judgment call on whether they require a ‘Dear’ or simply a ‘Hello’. Make sure you always double check the spelling of all names.
- Introduce yourself.
The body of the message should always start with a short, one or two-line summary of yourself. Include your name, job title and any other relevant information to your relationship with them.
- Explain why you are reaching out.
This is where you need to catch their attention. In this section, consider including:
– The name of a mutual contact or interest, such as a project or cause.
– Why you are interested in them specifically, highlighting what made them stand out to you.
– What you hope to gain from the contact, such as how they got to where they are today, collaboration on a joint project, or to discuss a mutual interest.
The key here is to be clear and specific about what you want and how they can help you. People who are known as experts often receive countless direct messages and requests for help. Usually with a vague request. Being specific will show you’ve spent time considering how their experience will help you with the specific thing you want to address.
- Show you have done your homework.
As an extension to the above, show you have insight into them and have already put some effort into the relationship by referencing something specific to them, such as a post they shared online, or a lesser known publication.
- Propose an action.
Before closing the message, make sure you present them with a clear call to action, so they know what the next step is. For example, ask to organise a face-to-face meeting or a phone call.
- Say thank you for their time before they have even given you any.
- Close the email.
Make sure to use the appropriate sign off for your level of rapport with the individual. If in doubt, ‘Regards’ is usually appropriate. Sign off with your full name and an email-like signature, including your email address and other contact information such as a mobile number.
Before you hit send – re-read what you’ve written. Is it clear and concise? Keep your message brief and to the point.
Even if your contact is interested in connecting with you, they are probably swamped. Give them the benefit of the doubt if you don’t hear back straight away. If you haven’t received a response in 7 – 10 working days, it is appropriate to send a short, succinct follow-up message politely asking if they have had a chance to consider your previous message.
How you begin a professional networking conversation can set the tone for the relationship that follows, so it’s important to get it right.
Make sure you take the time to invest in getting to know them, write a well-structured introduction, and be patient after pressing send and you may soon transition them from famous figure to network connection.