I Want To Work In Sports Part 3: Implementing Your Networking Plan
Networking is an art that requires preparation.
The first two articles in this three-part series provided an approach on how to properly prepare to build your network.
This article focuses on the implementation of your plan and shares different strategies to help you stay on track as you reach out to these professionals and pursue your dream job in sports.
Implementing Your Networking Plan
As you meet different people and develop your content, you will eventually start to make progress on your list. The success rate of your cold calls and email inquiries will slowly rise, and your network will thrive.
I spent the better part of three years connecting with people and positioning myself for an opportunity with an NFL team. My approach varied depending on the individual and job title, but it was always made clear that what I sought was information and advice, not a job. Make this the focus of your networking efforts.
As you implement your networking plan, keep the following in mind.
1: Follow-up is key
First impressions are very important. But with respect to networking and building a strong network, it is often the steps you take after the initial introduction that strengthen relationships.
A lack of follow-up makes one easy to forget, instead of easy to help. To illustrate this, think of the last time you met someone and spoke with him or her for 15-30 minutes. What was that person’s name? What did he or she do for a living? Having a hard time remembering? Follow-up is the best way to commit your name to memory.
Successful follow-up gets easier as you accomplish more in the industry and your list of contacts expands. The fact of the matter is you need something to talk about the second time around. Otherwise, you leave the person wondering, “Why in the heck is this person reaching out to me again?”
This question is a networker’s worst nightmare.
Rely on your content to have greater success with your follow-up. Focus on certain individuals in your network with strong ties to the position you hope to obtain and prioritize following up with them. These relationships will be key. To help with your follow-up, consider the following:
- Develop a reliable tracking mechanism within your contact list – Design a tracking sheet to help manage your contacts. Be sure to track the last date of contact or last conversation, as well as the contents of that conversation. For me, I developed a Microsoft Excel sheet that would turn a person’s name green if I hadn’t spoken with him or her in 6 months and red if it had been 12 months.
- Plan a networking trip – A face-to-face meeting goes a long way. Find a city or multiple cities close in proximity that have different individuals that you would like to engage with and send a few email feelers assessing their availability to meet in person. I coordinated over five networking trips when I first started my search. Sometimes they involved a sporting event, but other times the sole purpose for my trip was to meet with these individuals.
- Track important dates – Reach out when an important date is approaching. The event isn’t as important as the gesture, but it helps if the event is something the person is very passionate about. These events might include the birth of a child, work anniversary, career promotion or a specific personal accomplishment. Use this note to acknowledge that you look forward to connecting with him/her again and getting further acquainted.
- Provide a meaningful update – As you begin connecting with professionals at the higher levels, meaningless emails or phone calls will drive them away and make it less likely that they will help you. This is another reason why it is so important to track your conversations and the dates of those conversations. It is possible to over-network, so be certain to make these updates meaningful and relevant.
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2: Don’t lose focus of your primary objective
Ideally, every phone call and activity will be in furtherance of your primary career objective (identified in Part 1). That being said, the reality is that you will get sidetracked.
Over the years, I developed a set of tools that will help keep you on track and make sure everything is done with purpose towards a greater objective. Focusing strictly on the finish line is counter-productive and can be overwhelming.
Think of the last big project or assignment you worked on. Chances are you felt stressed, worried and uncertain about the project or assignment at first. But as you developed a plan and identified actionable steps to get to the end, these feelings likely vanished.
Consider the following strategies to help you remain focused on your career objective while setting actionable steps that will get you there:
1: The Next Level List
The Next Level List is a mechanism designed to help you focus on your career objectives and the steps you need to take to reach them. It will memorialize benchmarks that collectively result in the accomplishment of your goal. I created a sub-list for every career objective by working backwards. I identified which tasks would help me achieve the desired outcome and prioritized them into action items. Advice from members of my network, a plethora of independent research and, at times, plain common sense helped me determine the best approach.
Separate your action items into two categories: short-term goals and long-term goals. As a rule of thumb, short-term goals should be achievable within one-to-three years. Long-term goals should be obtainable within three-to-five years. While these lists provide actionable items with real deadlines, they should be structured in such a way that allows for some flexibility.
Designating an action item as “short term” or “long term” won’t always dictate the order in which your accomplishments occur. Revisiting this list and making changes when necessary is just as important as putting your goals on paper.
2: 30-Day Challenges
The 30-day challenge was introduced to me in law school. The concept, as it was explained, is simple. Identify something you want to do every day for 30 days. The scope can range from fitness goals to professional accomplishments. This approach to goal setting and high performance didn’t really resonate with me at first.
As I developed my own networking plan and approach to personal and professional development, I tweaked this idea of a 30-day challenge and used it as a tool to measure my performance and prevent me from navigating away from my short-term and long-term goals on my Next Level List.
Instead of identifying something that I wanted to do every day for 30 days, my focus shifted to things that could be accomplished in 30 days. I set short-term, 30-day objectives that collectively would achieve the short-term goals on my Next Level List. This created a level of accountability on a daily basis.
The tasks you choose to perform should embody the same components of a successful goal. They should be realistic and quantifiable. You should revisit your goals often, but the frequency is up to you. I do my best to track my goals on a weekly basis and identify my progress to make the proper adjustments.
Finally, you need to identify the tasks and assignments, the completion of which would satisfy multiple objectives or result in your acquiring skill sets applicable in various positions. The phrase “kill two birds with one stone” is cliché, but that’s exactly what you need to do.
3: Enjoy your journey
Working in sports can be an exhilarating, fulfilling career. Similar to other industries, you will experience highs and lows. It will be easy to become distracted with your career goals and to focus solely on getting to that next level. My final piece of advice is to encourage you not to let this happen. Enjoy your journey into the sports industry.
Make the most of every opportunity. Perform the tasks that few others are willing to complete. And when you finally get where you want to be, it will be rewarding. The advice in this three-part series will help you get there. It helped me get there, and it has helped many students that I have mentored in my short career. But don’t lose sight of what is important to you. Good luck!
This three-part series was based on guidance in my book, From Mascot To Agent And Everything In Between. You can purchase my book by visiting www.jhstrategists.com or buying directly from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
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