By Daniella Johnson
The thought of networking can make the otherwise confident & experienced professional uncomfortable. Like it or not, the key to climbing the corporate ladder, growing your own business, or even seeking new and interesting social opportunities is building relationships with people in your network. The great news is that it’s not as difficult as it appears! Just follow these 5 steps towards becoming a savvy networker.
Work with what you got – Have you attended school? Worked at a job/internship? Lived in a neighborhood? Went to church? Played any sports? That means you already have a network! You have encountered plenty of people in your lifetime. My advice is to start there. Think about the people you genuinely admired from your past or present. Start with 5 people. Send them a friendly e–mail asking how they’ve been, give them an update on your life and if possible suggest a lunch date or a phone call to catch up. If you’ve had any connection in the past, you’ll likely get a positive response. Set a date, be on time (!!), and enjoy a casual, stress-free conversation. Maybe you’ll find career connections, maybe not. You never know where a connection can lead you. Strive for the minimum 6 months catch up call.
Utilize social networking – If you’re like me, you spend way too much time on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Embrace it! Use it to your advantage. Social networking sites make it so much easier to follow-up with people after meeting them in person and to reconnect with people you haven’t spoken to in a while. Make it a point to send a friendly message to a Facebook friend you haven’t connected with recently. Note: Where social networking goes wrong is when people use it as a substitute for building relationships in person. Instead, use it as a supplement or a point-of-entry to making connections.
Be a joiner – One of the easiest ways to connect with people and grow your network is over a shared interest. Join a club or an organization that has a mission you are passionate about. Whether it’s a sports club, volunteer/political organization, professional organization or even a wine, dance or book club, it is an easy way to break the ice and meet people outside of your own network when you have something in common and are working towards a shared goal.
Talk to strangers – Yes, you read right! This is the scariest part of networking, but notice this is the fourth strategy on this list. Once you’ve become comfortable catching up with people in your social and personal network already and meeting people doing shared activities at a club, you’re now ready to approach people you don’t know to help expand your network.The best situations to talk to strangers are at conferences, work events (holiday parties, company meetings, etc.), professional networking mixers, etc. People are more likely and open to chatting in these environments. It’s also expected in most cases. If you see someone who looks interesting, reach your hand out and say, “Hi, I’m [Name]” Follow up with an appropriate question like “Is this your first event with this organization?” “What did you think of the workshop?” “What brings you to this conference?”, etc. Any professionally experienced person will happily engage in conversation.
FOLLOW-UP& FOLLOW-THROUGH! – This is the main factor that separates the effective networkers from the novice networkers. No matter how many business cards you collect and how many hands you shake, networking is useless if you do not follow up and build a relationship. It is a TOOL that helps you and/or other people achieve a goal. Follow-up with a person you’ve met in order to continue the relationship. Send them an e-mail within 3 days of meeting in person and follow-through with any information you promised to provide. Maintaining the relationship is the most tedious part of the process, but it will help you become the expert networker that you need to be!
Follow Daniella Johnson on twitter at @daniella_mtktg or her website at www.tumblr.com/daniella-mktg
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