She is “1 of the 10 Most Well-Connected People in New York City’s Startup Scene”, according to Inc., “1 of the 100 Most Influential Tech Women On Twitter”, according to Business Insider, and “1 of 5 Women Changing the World of VC/Entrepreneurship”, according to Forbes.
Formerly an attorney in a top law firm, she also co-founded a startup accelerator, is an LP investor in several emerging tech funds, a keynote speaker, and a published author of “Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships In a Hyper-Connected World.”
J. Kelly Hoey is truly a networking expert.
We had the opportunity to speak a couple of weeks ago for the recording of my latest podcast episode. We discussed some of the tragic pitfalls people make in their attempts to grow their network, and Kelly put to rest the idea that networking is a skin-deep, momentary activity we engage in.
Despite being plastered on every other LinkedIn article that colors our feed and featuring on an overwhelming number of subject lines that clutter our inbox, networking is still largely misunderstood.
When we think of “networking”, our imagination often wonders to a crowded room filled with businesspeople wearing name tags, trying to weigh up the pros-and-cons involved with attempting to eat the spinach canapes.
Yet, when I asked Kelly to explain what “networking” means, she responded:
“Every single human interaction.”
Networking is to your career what your muscles are to your bones. They’re responsible for making it move. They give it direction, support, and shape.
Much like muscles, networking isn’t something you opt-in or out of; it’s a truth that comes with being human. Unless you completely self-isolate (and we’re talking –living on the moon levels of isolation), you will interact with other humans, whether it’s in a passive or an active sense.
Again, like a muscle, it’s something you can consciously develop and strengthen, or choose to forget about. In both instances, I highly recommend the former.
Being a strong networker creates efficiencies. If you’re working on a particular task within a company, leveraging your connections can help you find the skills you need, when you need them. If you’re looking for a new opportunity, your network might just be the place to find it. If you’re keen to learn more about a different industry, your network could have all the answers.
And whether you realize it or not, you’re networking all the time. What does your email signature say about you? What does your LinkedIn profile say about you? What does the quality of your work say about you? How about your ability to listen, or your contribution of ideas during meetings?
Much like your body is made up of a bunch of different muscles, networking involves a bunch of different skills. There are some you probably use less than others and will thus need to work harder to strengthen. There are also times where you might overdo it and an injury forces you to lay off for a while.
Thankfully, like a Tracy Anderson of business, Kelly shared some valuable insights sure to strengthen, tone, and grow your networking skills.
It’s a Game of Give & Take
Kelly described Jennifer’s story.
Building a new line of business and eager to find people she might want to do business with, Jennifer attended a networking event. The kind I mentioned earlier, with the name tags and the canapes.
Having turned up unfashionably early she watched as the organizers frantically scrambled to fix all the last-minute glitches — including the name tags. On seeing the chaos unfold, Jennifer offered to help. Relived, the organizers left before she had a chance to change her mind. That was the last she saw of them all night.
What she did see, however, was every single guest who attended the event. She left with 80 solid business connections; everyone who came to get their name tag from her.
Networking isn’t just about reaching out to find answers and opportunities. It includes putting yourself out there; making yourself known. And a great way to do this is to volunteer; to offer your time, your opinion, your knowledge.
This way it’s not just you adding people to your network, it’s also others adding you to theirs.
It’s a Muscle That Expands and Contracts
When it comes to connections, it’s not about “how many”, it’s about “who”. It’s the quality and the relevance of those connections.
There are times in life when you’ll need to expand your network. Maybe you’re looking for a new job, or you need to find a new supplier, or you’re looking to attract new clients. Whatever the reason, there are times when you’ll need to cast your net out wide and connect with people who are relevant to your circumstances at that particular time.
However, as your career evolves, as your role changes, as your priorities and your responsibilities shift, so will theirs. There’s likely to come a point where your circumstances no longer share a common synergy. And it’s more than okay in these situations to contract; to let go of some connections.
When you’re directly connected to someone, you’re also indirectly connected with their connections. You might hear about something “a person they know” is doing, or you come across an article your connection shared from their network, which gave you an idea. If you’re holding on to irrelevant connections, you’re likely to be spammed with irrelevant information.
So, keep your network moving. Let it expand and contract, expand and contract, as you replenish and update your connections with people who could help nourish your career as opposed to just fill you up.
You Need to Warm Up for Maximum Performance
The muscles in your legs move to help you walk. The muscles in your arms move to help you pull open the door. The muscles in your face move to shape your smile. There’s a reason behind the movement.
In the same way, there should be a reason why you’re reaching out to someone. And you need to make this reason apparent at the outset. Your motivation needs to go beyond “I’m looking for a new job”, or “I want to know more about your industry.” It’s likely that other people could help you with both of those things — so why them?
Much like you would warm up before exercising, you need to prepare before reaching out to a potential new connection. Do your research. Have they written a blog post, or answer your question during a talk that’s publicly available? What is it about them specifically that drew your interest, and what are the specific topics you would like them to expand on?
Admittedly, this involves doing more work. But skipping this crucial step could lead to ‘injury’; it’ll hold you back.
Your response rate is likely to be much greater if the person you’re reaching out to sees you’ve done the work. They don’t want to receive a broad, generic question you could likely have sent dozens of people and is likely to take a significant amount of their time to respond to. They’re better off hoping someone else will reply.
Doing your research will allow you to identify the points that have already been answered, and help you reach out with questions that are relevant to them, and them only. So don’t skip the warm-up!
Whether you know it or not, you’re doing it; you’re networking. Every time you send an e-mail, every time you Tweet, every time you like a post on social media, and every time you exchange a smile with a stranger on the street.
Networking comes with the package. Like our muscles, it’s just part of being human. You don’t need to strengthen your muscles, but you’ll be better off for it. And the same applies to networking.
So for those who are interested in getting in shape, here’s your first rep:
1. It’s a Game of Give & Take
2. It’s a Muscle That Expands and Contracts
3. You Need to Warm Up for Maximum Performance