When I started networking in earnest nearly 20 years ago, I found it extremely difficult. As an introvert, I felt awkward and out of place, and I struggled to think on my feet. However, once I built the skills and confidence, and started to experience the many benefits a strong network has to offer, I have come to believe that networking to be one of the most important skills for anyone with ambition to master.
No one has all the knowledge, insights and connections they need to succeed, so your network can play an important role in helping you achieve all your future goals – it can even inspire you to dream bigger and achieve more!
For example, a network can help you to:
- achieve greater success in your business
- progress in your career
- gain more personal development
- widen your circle of friends.
A strong network, however, can take you even further! With a network full of people who know, like and trust you, you can gain:
- a solid pipeline of leads and referrals for your business
- recommendations for speaker engagements
- more of your professional goals
- greater inspiration and insights to help you achieve more success than you thought possible.
If you don’t have a strong network yet – here’s how to start!
Get out there!
The best way to build a network is to get out there and meet people. This needn’t be at specific networking events – though these are of course a great place to start.
You can also go to more events and classes that are aligned to your interests and passions and meet people that way. Or perhaps you can sign up for a class to learn something you’ve always wanted to do: a language, woodwork or painting class for example.
You can check out MeetUp, InterNations or a whole host of other websites that list social activities and clubs. Your local phonebook media will also list classes and clubs.
This can all be easier said than done if you feel shy. However, if you focus on your goal and create a vision for what your new network will make possible for you, any fears and obstacles will start to feel smaller.
Make friends online
You can also start meeting people online through social media sites. LinkedIn is a great one for starting professional relationships where as other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat can be good for personal friendships. Through as each of these sites evolve, the lines between them are becoming less defined.
Making connects online can be a great way to meet people who are not local to you, or to find people who are interested in the same things as you.
The two things to remember with building friendships online is to:
- take steps to ensure the person is genuine and
2. act the same as you would if you met the person in real life. Ask questions, share information and take time to really know them, don’t just jump straight in with messages (much worse sales messages) that you don’t already know are relevant to that person.
Don’t be tempted to hide online to do all your networking though – relationships that are started face-to-face are usually the strongest and help build your confidence. So go for a nice mix of on- and offline networking.
Be open when you network
When meeting people, the most important first step is to have open body language and an engaging smile. You have to look like someone that person wants to get to know better.
Wearing appropriate clothes can help too. Do some research into the event to find out the dress code – if in doubt go for smart dress.
Many people get this very wrong. They think that ‘being interesting’ means they have to talk a lot. In fact, it’s completely the opposite!
To be interesting, you need to show genuine interest in the other person. Aim to speak around 20% of the time. This allows plenty of opportunity to get to know the other person speak. Ask lots of questions so you can understand what interests and motivates them. Then you can share stories and information that are 100% relevant to that person – that’s when you become interesting!
For this reason, introverts often make the best networkers!
Before the event, you want to do your homework and research the event and its participants.
Research the event: Whatever the subject of the event is, it’s fair to assume that the people attending the event want to know more about that subject. So do some research beforehand to find and prepare a few relevant facts, stories and news items that you can share or drop into conversation as appropriate.
Study the participant list: Study who will be attending the event, make a short list of who you’d like to meet, and then look them up on LinkedIn or Facebook. This will not only tell you what they look like, so you can find them at the event, but will also tell you what they are interested in so you can prepare some relevant questions for them.
Know your objectives: Is there something you’d like to learn? Someone you’d like to meet? A particular company, market or industry you’d like to know more about? Etc. Being clear about this before you attend the event, will make it more likely that you’ll achieve your goal.
Audit your online presence: It’s fair to assume, that just as you are looking up other participants and will connect with them online afterwards, other people will do the same to you. So be sure your online presence is up-to-date and attractive to those who may attend the event.
Planning ahead and being fully prepared will boost your confidence, and enable you to enjoy better outcomes after the event.
Look for variety in your network
If you want a strong network, you want to be adding people with a wide variety of skills, experiences and backgrounds.
It’s easy to meet who are people like yourself, but they don’t always have the breadth of knowledge and experience that will be helpful to you in the different situations you may find yourself in throughout your life and career.
The saying ‘The Fortune is in the Follow Up’ does not just apply to sales.
While networking is a great way to meet people, it’s only in following up with people after an event that you can build relationships with them. Having a ‘strong’ network means that you have a list of contacts that know, like and trust you – so the follow up is key.
It’s near impossible to stay in touch with everyone, so be selective in who you want to build relationships with. All those questions you asked when you met the person the first time will help you work out who the most valuable people to you are.
Always block some time in your diary to follow up with people after the event and make good on any promises. Add everyone you meet to your LinkedIn network with a personal note about how you enjoyed meeting them. In this note, be specific about something you discussed so they know you are genuine – this with help build trust.
Beyond your initial follow up, look out for news and stories that might be interesting to specific people in your network and share these on a regular basis. This can be particularly powerful if the articles are those that you have developed yourself.
These anecdotes should be shared with people on an individual basis and not in a group message – unless it’s something you want to use to initiate a discussion amongst the group. You want to keep things personal and specific as much as possible to support the relationship building process.
Finally, it’s important to have fun while networking. People always want to stay in touch with people who they enjoy being around and who make them feel special, so always keep this in mind! Be generous in giving people your time and attention, enjoy the friendships you make, and celebrate your successes and achievements along the road to building a strong network.