Are you seeking ways to grow and make the most of either your online or face-to-face gay professional networking for your LGBTQ owned business as an entrepreneur or grow your professional career be it a dog walker, attorney, project manager or other? Making connections face to face is always the ideal since it provides an opportunity to casually and naturally discuss your business or career in the course of a natural conversation. However, in today’s times of social media and everything internet, you’d be remiss if you don’t also take advantage of the incredible resources available to grow your business or career locally, nationally and globally online.
With all the issues LGBT people face on the job and in the business community, LGBT professional networking is a must to advance your career and business. You don’t have to be exclusively LGBT focused but ignoring it is just plain missing out.
1. Before you get started
Be sure your profiles set up nicely before you jump in. See our full article for 37 LinkedIn profile tips for the queer professional networker and job seeker.
On Facebook, take a good look at your Facebook history. Does it need a bit of a scrubbing? In any case, I highly recommend you lock your Facebook account down so that only “friends” who are connected with you can see your postings and photos – especially if you like to post photos of nights out shirtless dancing or more.
Likewise for all other social media accounts. This is especially true if job hunting. The recruiters WILL check out your social media accounts even if not listed on your resume or LinkedIn profile. They’ll hunt it down to see what kind of postings you put out there. So lock them down, and/or keep them clean.
Wow, did you just get a “friend” invite from a smoking hot guy or gal? Be careful, that could be an account for the recruiter or prospective client to check you out behind your locked down account. Yes – it happens.
2. Define your realistic goals
What are you trying to achieve with your gay professional networking? Are you trying to land a new job, or gain new clients/customers? Networking takes time and energy. You cannot wait until you really need it to start. It has to be built over time. So many job seekers and small business owners don’t get this and set their expectations unrealistically. So when it doesn’t pay off right away they give up thinking there is no value in professional networking. Marketing 101 says it takes 12-18 or so impressions of your brand to make a memory. Social networking is similar. You must put in the efforts and follow the tips below to create a repeatable impression so that you stick in the minds and get those calls for that new job or call from potential clients/customers. Define your goals and be realistic. Magic and miracles happen because you take action and follow through with both a 3-6 month range goals and a longer term 6-12 month goals.
3. Identify your ideal contact types
You don’t target a company – you target a person. Go narrow and deep (versus wide and broad), and find out who works in your ideal department and who makes the decisions for what you are after. From online profiles to press releases. The resources to discover your ideal contacts are out there.
4. Identify your “strategic contacts”
With all the online information, there is almost no reason for a cold-call or cold-email anymore.
“Strategic Contacts” are contacts who can make important introductions to your target contacts.
5. Put yourself out there
There are a few ways to give your gay professional networking strategy a push in the more active direction, but one of the best is obviously to be face-to-face.
- Sign up for conferences or events, which are typically jam-packed with valuable information. Plus, most events give you plenty of time to mingle to start to build professional relationships. Get their contact information and before you leave schedule a get-together for coffee.
- Consider volunteering with local or national charities. It’s a great way to both give to your community as well as make new friends and contacts with similar interests.
- Try a new organized hobby or sport. It’s a way to get out of your routine as well as also make new friends and contacts not to mention sports such as hiking or others is a great health benefit too.
6. Social media works
Social media has its limitations, but you can take advantage of what it has to offer following these tips.
See our article on setting up a great LinkedIn profile for queer professionals to get started.
I get amazed by how many people I chat with, like just this week, who are in a job search mode and when I ask if they are on LinkedIn they say NO. I hold my internal response to that and simply reply, “Well, it’s the largest online professional site and recruiters use it prolifically to find active and passive candidates. Get on it today, and once your LinkedIn profile is completed indicate that you are in the job market via its tools. It’s simple and just take a little bit of time to set up following our 37 tips for the queer professional profile on LinkedIn.
I further invite them to connect with me since I’ve been on LinkedIn for around 17 years with over 24,000 1st degree connections globally. Consider all your LGBT owned small business marketing ideas with networking part of that mix.
There are thousands of groups all over LinkedIn that create industry-specific communities. In addition, there are some that are topically focused while still remaining professional such as the OutBüro on LinkedIn.
Making LinkedIn work for you
- Follow companies and check out who works there.
- You can leverage LinkedIn’s search for the job title or keyword and then filter it by a company. Nice!!
- Scroll through the search results you discover potential new contacts, job titles, positions, and companies.
- LinkedIn saves your recent searches for easy access again.
- Be judicious – as a free LinkedIn member, there’s a limit to the number of search results monthly that LinkedIn serves up. If you find yourself repeatedly hitting that ceiling, consider a professional level account for a few months.
- After your initial contact and introduction get the conversation OFF LinkedIn into a direct email, phone, or in person as soon as possible. You’ll quickly find that messages via LinkedIn get lost in all the connection notices you are making.
6b. OutBüro on LinkedIn
OutBüro provides two vehicles to gay professional networks. The first is our OutBüro on LinkedIn group which was the first, nearly 11 years old, moderated and still the largest LGBT professional networking group on LinkedIn with currently as of this writing 45,000 global members in all levels of career and in all industries.
6c. OutBüro site
OutBüro was launched with a goal to provide a unique space for LGBT professionals of all levels in career and entrepreneurs to:
- Connect and network
- Form industry or topically focused groups for further interaction
- Find a or be a professional mentor
- Gain exposure through posting articles and press releases add SEO love to your own website.
- Gain exposure through company featured articles about your career, business or your employers
- Provide the only LGBTQ anonymous employee rating system for their employers similar to Glassdoor.com
- … and growing in content and features
In addition to connecting with real and desired “friends,” you should check out LGBT focused, industry-focused and topic-focused groups. Facebook is cluttered a bit much with images of cute kittens and what someone is having for dinner. It’s possible to professionally network yet quite a bit more work to do so.
6e. Other social media sites
You have to leverage the social media sites where your target connections and audience hang out be it Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter or others.
7 Don’t be shy
Don’t be afraid to reach out and make mutually beneficial connections online. You can find common ground with almost anyone, so using this can be an icebreaker. Make sure your language is not only professional but authentic when reaching out as well.
8. Customize your connection request
When connecting online, send a customized note about why you are reaching out to this person. Did you meet them somewhere? What do you have in common or why would they want to connect with you? Use their first name in the connection message. Keep it brief.
9. Provide and offer value
Focus on giving value to your new contacts, rather than only on what you want from others. Take this rule both in person and online. Like and make thoughtful pertinent comments on other people’s conversation and postings. In person, a good listener asks questions. As they see your genuine interest in them and what they do, they’ll provide the same opportunity for you to share as well.
10. Hash it out
When sharing your own content, re-posting content from a site or commenting, consider leveraging hash tags to gain more visibility. On LinkedIn, you may also follow hash tags to discover great content and people in the topics and industries you are interested in. Engaging and interacting with your non-contacts and contacts alike strengthens those connections and builds your credibility which can lead to opportunities.
11. Professional associations
Get involved in all professional associations that you can. It’s a great way to build your industry knowledge, gain certification as well as network for career opportunities. There are many LGBT focused professional associations to compliment your general ones too.
12. Chambers of Commerce
If you’re a business owner, participating in your local chamber of commerce is a great way to make connections with complimentary business and build a referral network. Many areas also have LGBT Chambers of Commerce too. They provide not only networking opportunities but also education and other resources valuable to the entrepreneur.
If job seeking, you might consider volunteering at the chamber to gain access to all those business owners. That networking could lead to a new job.
13. Nurture your relationships
According to Forbes, 23% of more than 2,200 CFOs agreed that failing to keep in touch or only reaching out when you need something is the greatest networking mistake that professionals make.
There are lots of ways to stay in contact and on their mind. After you’ve gotten to know them a little, you might provide them skill endorsements on LinkedIn. Maybe you might pass along another contact that would be mutually valuable. If you have the opportunity you might connect a great candidate for an open position they have that’s not a fit for you. You’ll comment thoughtfully on their postings. You’ll share their press releases. A little activity can go a long way and build in building a rapport.
14. Networking vs. cruising
Okay, some might think even writing this is just a step beyond. But because I’ve seen it happen to others as well as I’ve had it happen to me, it’s worth stating. When you are in the mode of professional networking, keep it focused on just that. Trying to mix your professional networking and using it as a pick up / hook up vehicle can mean you are too focused on that guy/gal and missing potential professional opportunities.
Can you meet someone via professional networking event that you are personally attracted too? ABSOLUTELY. But, in the space of networking, keep that conversation brief, exchange numbers, and schedule to meet after the event or another day. Remember why you are there.
Also if at a venue where alcohol is being served – have a drink or two, but your always safe with water. Go out and have your fun after the business event.
For a few more gay professional networking tips, check out our other article titled “Career Networking as an LGBT Professional – 7 Tips”.
Gay professional networking is not a “one-off activity”. If you follow the tips above, you can start building your network and leveraging those connections to help build your business or grow your career.
Studies show that the key to long-term career success is having a great network. Making yourself known and respected in the community, be it local or online will open up a variety of doors to opportunities.