Because we started AeLa when we were students, networking was almost automatic when we started out. Being in university afforded us lots of opportunities to meet new folks, whether it be by serendipity, events, or leveraging the grapevine.
We’re no longer students, though, so the nature of many of our network connections has changed. COVID has also changed networking for everyone, everywhere. And to top it off, our business model and company goals have changed. As we’ve evolved, our network has evolved with us.
This month, we wanted to talk about how we approach networking, through all the stages of a relationship.
Intros come in a myriad of different types. Generally, we think of introductions as being warm or cold and general or specific.
Cold intros, for example, might feel negative in a way, but none of these traits are bad! Cold contacts are a great way to meet new folks and reach far beyond the scope of your current network.
Expos and events are a great way to meet lots of people in a short time, but asking your current contacts for people they can connect you with can be just as valuable (especially if events aren’t going on). In the case of asking people in your network for warm connections, it is helpful to know what you’re looking for, even if all you’re looking for is a general intro.
Once we’ve met someone for the first time, we place a lot of value in staying connected. Reaching out every now and then, whether that’s just to catch up or to ask for specific help, is just as important in your professional life as it is in your personal life.
It’s worth noting here that the frequency that we reach out to someone depends a lot, relationship to relationship; no two are the same! It makes sense to check in with some folks every couple months, others, far less often.
Asking for help is something a lot of people (and teams) can struggle with. While it hasn’t always come easy for us, we’ve done our best to hold each other accountable even when it’s difficult. And fortunately for us, our wonderful network of friends and partners has been incredibly supportive.
When it comes to asking for help, we try to approach the conversation with a clear understanding that the other person/company is doing us a favor, not that we believe they owe us anything. Being patient when waiting on a response is a clear example of this - if we’re asking for feedback last minute, we have to make peace with the idea that they might not have the time. Best to ask early when you can afford to be patient.
It’s also important that even if you’re asking for help, you can always offer in return! While it may not seem like a lot, you can offer enthusiastic conversation, willingness to accept criticism, and gratitude for their help - all of which go a long way! Other times you may be able to offer help or insight to them in return. Either way, 1-way relationships, if you don’t both give and take, can be draining and ultimately lead to the connection fading away.
When you don’t already know someone who can help you in a specific way, finding a qualified consultant may be perfect - and if things go well, this person may be willing to stay in touch in the future!
The AeLa team just recently started working with Rami Ismail through his consultancies, and it’s been an invaluable experience for us. We were able to get precisely the kind of feedback we needed, when we needed it. Hiring consultants will be a tool we use in the future, and after the benefit we’ve seen, we’re advocating for it to other teams, too.
Unfortunately, some relationships come to an end gradually, by just fading away. Sometimes it’s because one party stops responding, other times it’s because both parties stop reaching out to each other. Either way, it’s natural to happen sometimes, and no matter the reason, the best we can do is try to handle it gracefully. Relationships have to be a 2-way dynamic, and if one party is no longer interested or available, it’s healthiest for the other party to move on, too.
In the end, your network is composed of people, and built on the foundation of 1-1 relationships, which will always be unique. The stages and ideas above help guide us when we think about the development of our network, but relationships aren’t mechanical and different situations will call for different approaches. This is one way to look at networking, and we hope “our way” will continue to change as AeLa continues to evolve.