Many of us undermine the benefits of networking, or many of us go into a networking event with the goal to collect as many business cards as possible, but there is so much more we can gain from this tool. Networking the right way can lead you to your next big gig, your significant other or a long-lasting relationship, but don’t take our word on it. Just listen to Sameer Desai, President of LOTUS, a group that aims to connect and empower young professionals in Texas to collectively serve and strengthen their community.
In addition to running LOTUS in Dallas, Desai is the senior marketing analyst at PepsiCo/Frito-Lay and founder of The New Hire, which offers free and simple career marketing mentorship. So with a background in marketing and the will to connect like-minded people, Desai and a group of friends took it a step further by founding a service and social initiative in 2013.
I was very involved in the Indian Students Association and the South Asian college demographic. After a year of working, I didn’t really have a good group of people to do events with and impact the community. I asked myself, how do we engage this young professional community who graduated college, to connect, network and grow with? Why don’t we start LOTUS in Dallas and see how this goes.”
Desai and his executive board created a model for LOTUS where they hold a social and service event every other month. Sameer notes, this is a way for them to drive engagement, while making sure people learn how to balance between social and service.
We have about 25 people at each event come out from Lotus and a total of 100 people from all different parts of Dallas, who work for companies, such as FedEx. We get to meet a bunch of different people and really get to know others in our community.”
Recently, LOTUS held a garden service event, which focused on making a change in their community, and networking was easily implemented through their service.
The word networking has a negative connotation to it. It seems too formal,” Desai said. When people do things together, it’s easier to find something to talk about. Let’s say I am meeting you one on one, its harder to find something to talk about. If we are doing an event together and working side by side, it’s much easier, it comes naturally.”
Monthly events held by LOTUS are a simple way to meet young professionals and have fun while connecting, Desai said. He goes on to say, this is what the best kind of networking is – overcoming the anxiety of meeting people, while not having to impress someone in a formal setting.
My goal is not to hand out this many business cards. It’s more about how can I meet like-minded people? How can I meet people who are more ambitious and who love living in Dallas? That’s the main goal.”
In terms of LOTUS’s expansion, Desai said his executive board is excited to announce the launch of the Austin chapter, which took place on July 2.
The need and interest of different chapters is catching on, and expanding,” Desai said. “The South Asian Young professional organization idea is spreading and we could not be more excited. We are hoping to see this grow double in the next year.”
Networking is developed by practice, and once you get out there and start meeting people, it becomes much easier.
1. Networking isn’t always about landing that job or getting someone to do something for you. It’s about forming relationships and learning about different people from different backgrounds. You maybe have a goal in mind about whom you want to talk to and why, but remember that there doesn’t always need to be a “why.” Down the road, you never know how a connection could help you.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask! The saying “you can’t get what you don’t ask for” is especially true for networking. If you want someone to introduce you to someone or give you advice about a particular issue, you have to ask.
3. When networking, its important to not only focus on “what can this person do for me?” It’s much more valuable to ask, “What can I do for this person?” You’ll be surprised how much more genuine your conversations and relationships become.
4. You don’t need to be an extrovert to be good at networking. It’s hard to put yourself out there and strike up a conversation with random strangers. But take it slow and remember point #3. Sometimes the best networkers are introverts because they are good at listening and not the one to dominate the conversation.
5. Keep organized. Collect business cards, create a spreadsheet, or make notes somewhere about the people you meet, what they do, and how you want to keep in touch with them in the future. In order to maintain those relationships, you need to follow up, send thank yous, or short emails about a news article. It is never a one-and-done conversation!
All photos are provided by Sameer Desai.
Sindhuri Bhimavarapu is a young writer, lover of all things pure-hearted and a fan of exceptionally made coffee. She aims to inspire and motivate young women around the globe. She is a writer and a member of the social media team for Brown Girl Magazine. Among her achievements are graduating from Stony Brook University with a degree in Economics and writing rap, which can be considered “Jay-Z” material. She enjoys light reading on modern economics, current events and latest business ventures. Sindhuri finds happiness in the simple things in life, occasionally indulging in Chipotle. Follow Sindhuri on Twitter @sbhims.