Networking is a critical component of our business and professional development. However, we often wait until we have lost a job or a key customer before we join a professional organization or attend a business function. I recently met a group of displaced technology workers and asked the group if they belonged to any professional networking organizations or had attended a business networking function in the past 6 months. Most of the respondents said no. But then they asked how and where could they get started.
Business networking is a natural act for most sales and business development professionals, but those in other occupations are often challenged by the process. Technologists used to have great job security and pesky recruiters constantly presented career opportunities. That is certainly not the case today as many information technology and life science workers have lost their jobs to offshore workers and downsizing, as well as industry mergers and consolidation.
I belong to several technology networking groups in Wisconsin. These are all fine organizations that offer great benefits to their members and have monthly meetings with interesting speakers. Compared to other areas of the country where I have traveled and worked, I see a smaller percentage of technology workers in attendance here. Wisconsin’s technologists should begin networking and consider joining one of these associations. Even if you are not looking for a job or seeking a customer, there are substantial benefits. And who knows, perhaps you might meet a colleague and form a new business or meet a valuable contact that could assist you if you’re suddenly unemployed. Despite these benefits, however, becoming a member and attending meetings does have drawbacks for many people.
Perhaps you have you attended a conference, walked into the room and felt intimidated by all the people who knew one another, as you stood alone with a pocket full of business cards? Perhaps you’ve attended networking events and felt shy or slighted, having not been able to meet that important potential new customer, investor or future employer? Luckily, there are ways to overcome these anxieties.
Technology, business and social networking
Technology is rapidly changing traditional networking, and investors seem to believe there is money to be made. Computers and networking go hand in hand in both in a technical and social sense. Wouldn’t you like to reduce the six-degrees of separation between your business and the connections you need down to one degree with just a click of your computer’s mouse?
In the world of online dating and social networking, the Internet is full of rapidly growing and successful services like friendster.com. This site has four million users and $13 million in venture funding from blue-chip VC firms Benchmark Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
The concept has been extended to business networking. Technology is evolving from the formulaic “meet and greet” tradition to social based networking. LinkedIn.com, backed by Sequoia Capital secured $4.7 million in financing, while Spoke Software claims it raised $19.2 million and plans to integrate the technology with customer relationship software programs.
I recently joined linked the LinkedIn Network and was instantly connected to like-minded people. Connections are now just a click away. In just 10 minutes, I established personal connections with 30 people in Wisconsin alone. Now, I have access to press, other businesses, investors, and technologists across the world. During the last month alone, my online network has grown to more than 13,700 users with whom I can connect without a referral. I have 128 direct connections and have a total available network of 145,900 professionals. Now that’s high-speed networking!
Not your usual business card exchange
Face-to-face networking is also going through a transformation with the introduction of two-minute speed networking events which are based on speed dating. At these gatherings you can meet everyone at the event in well-coordinated, high-speed meetings. Participants are often skeptical at first, but later rave about the quality of contacts they encountered. If you are easily intimated or shy, you don’t have worry about how to approach an important contact. The meetings have been facilitated in advance and participant bios and contact information provided. The Wisconsin Technology Network has hosted two of these events and months later, we still hear about the jobs that have been filled or deals that have been completed as a direct result of these high-speed connections.
Join me at www.linkedin.com or a speed-networking event and help our business community to get connected. We can use our new contacts to “Grow Wisconsin,” your business and career.
Mike Klein is the founder and editorial director of the Wisconsin Technology Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org