Networking is key for success. Experts agree that the most connected people are often the most successful. When you invest in your relationships — professional and personal — it can pay you back in dividends throughout the course of your career and your life.
Networking can, and will help you develop and improve your skills, stay on top of the latest trends in your industry, keep a pulse on the market, meet prospective mentors, partners, and clients, and gain access to the necessary resources that will foster your career development and personal growth.
Despite the big impact that networking has on both persona and career development, isn't always at the top of everyone's to-do list. When your calendar is already overcrowded with work appointments and family commitments, the last thing you want to do is make small talk with strangers at yet another cocktail party.
And, let's be realistic, it can be intimidating. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or something in between. Networking is putting yourself out there. It’s getting vulnerable in a space that isn’t always comfortable.
Let me ask you something:
What has held you back in the past form networking?
Why you decided not to go to that networking even?
What about networking scare you?
Some common barriers and excuses not to actively network can include:
I don't have time / I'm too buy.
I am in introvert.
I am not sure who to connect with.
I am afraid others will judge me.
I don't know what to talk about.
I don't have the time to follow up with all the people I meet.
When we think about networking the first time that comes to our minds is probably big events with lots of people. If you are an introvert, like me, that sounds like a nightmare.
I remember a few years ago I decided I needed to make networking a priority and starting to sign up to every networking I came aware of. I was determined to expand my professional network as I was convinced that will help grow my career.
I would go to these big events determined to connect with at least five new people (yes, as a good goal getter I would set goals on how many people I would connect with). I would get to the event, once again determined to meet all these new people and the minute I stepped on the room I would freeze out of panic; I would scan the room to find the one person I knew, or at least I had meet before, and I would walk to that person with my blinders on, not making eye contact with anyone else. I would get there and stay with that person for the rest of the event. I would leave the event and, on my way home, felt as a failure because I did not meet any new people, which was the reason why I went to the event on the first time.
If you can relate, you want to keep reading. Let me share what I have learned about networking in the last years and how you can make networking less scary.
1. Start with your current network.
Again, when we talk about networking immediately, we think about new people to meet, and we underestimate our current contacts. If you meet someone what you don't nourish that relation, all the effort is worthless. Instead of focusing on how many new people you meet, start by connecting and fostering positive relationships with the people you already know. I like to do this on three simple steps.
Prioritize your contacts.
Schedule time to connect / be intentional about it.
Re-evaluate your strategy.
To learn more about these steps, listen to Episode 52 of the Leading Yourself Podcast.
2. Network outside of your current network.
Here are few tips to connect with and expand your network outside of your existing contact list:
Choose the right events to attend to. To learn more about how to prioritize what networking events to attend to, listen to Episode 52 of the Leading Yourself Podcast.
When planning to go to a networking event, bring with a friend or a wingman/women with you.
Think outside of the box. There are many different ways to meet and connect with new people outside of big networking events.
But, if you decide to attend a networking event, here are some tips that can help:
Take a look at who will be there, and identify who you want to connect with.
Research contacts in advance.
Find things you have in common.
Find out what they are passionate about.
Become their wingman.
In my effort to become better at networking I took some trainings, read books and listened to podcast, and I was told many times to prepare an elevator pitch to use in networking events. The things is, is super awkward to share your elevator pitch out of the bloom with an stranger.
Instead, what has worked best for me is to listen and show genuine interest on the other person's work, background and accomplishments. Here is where the research beforehand can come really handy.
3. Follow up and be of help.
As I mentioned, getting outside of your comfort zone to connect with new people is useless unless you follow up with them and develop a relationship. Here is how I personally like to tackle that:
Send a follow up note, email or letter.
Connecting on social media (if you had not connected with them already) .
Show genuine appreciation for the opportunity to connect.
Highlight something that was a a highlight for you on your interaction.
Be useful to them or someone they care.
Invite them to connect again.