Up your Networking Game

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

When it comes to “networking” in the traditional sense, there’s certainly a spectrum of opinions about it. There are those who love it and can’t help but do it everywhere they go (stereotypical extrovert; think: Sales guy) and those who dismiss, even despise the concept (stereotypical introvert, think: Actuary). But “networking” is simply a buzzword for building and maintaining relationships.

Creating and enhancing our human support systems and sources of information is a necessity for us as we learn and grow, in our work and otherwise. Whether you identify more with the stereotypical Sales Guy or Actuary, you are probably networking already, just in a way that is comfortable for you. You’re doing it every time you interact with someone else: telling jokes to strangers at a big party or comparing data with colleagues over e-mail.

The people who know us are our community – our “network” – and part of what a community can do is help us reach our objectives. Here are a few ways to take what you’re doing already and make an adjustment that allows you to get lots more out of interactions with others:

If you’re already: Shooting interesting articles to your direct colleagues
You can also: Share it outside your group.

Have some insightful document or new learning that you think might be beneficial? Also send it to a couple of people with whom you could use more visibility. Tie it in to what you know about issues they’re working on, and you’ll succeed on a few fronts: you’ll contribute to building the relationship through generosity, you’ll demonstrate interest in – and understanding of – what’s going on for them, and you’ll open the door to further conversation.

If you’re already: E-mailing to keep in touch
You can instead: Pick up the phone.

Pretty good at nurturing your network through thoughtfully crafted notes on a regular basis? It’s a great practice, but it can take a lot of time, and your low-priority “hello” note can sit there until the recipient has the spare time to respond.  A friendly no-agenda-but-to-check-in phone call is a fast fix. Whether it’s  “how are you?” “how’s business?” or “I was just thinking of you because….”, with a genuine smile and sentiment, it can be a very effective way to connect. Yes, it might be a little random, but that’s a good thing; a great way to stand out! Once you get a feel for how to do this in your own words, it’ll be a valuable tool to keep yourself from becoming another to-do in their InBox.

If you already: Have an enviable network in your line of business
You can now: Diversify

Consider the different types of people who would help you forward your objectives.  Individuals with different skills sets, in different businesses, with different personalities can provide valuable new perspectives. This isn’t about endlessly building the numbers of people you know, but more about making sure you haven’t limited yourself by connecting only with people who are like you.

If you’re already: Boldly securing meetings with new business contacts
You can also: Ask for a name.

No matter your networking purpose – career growth, business building or otherwise – asking about where to go next will expand your reach of relationships through warm leads. In practice, this might sound like: “It was great chatting. Thank you. Meeting with people is a valuable way for me to……. Who else would you suggest I speak to?”

If you’re already: Frequenting “networking events”
You might try: Being pickier

Get more by doing less? That’s the idea! Here’s my suggestion:  Even if you love working the room and making a lunch out of hors d’oeuvres, be sure it’s worth your time. Get really clear beforehand about who/what type of person you are targeting and what impression you’d like to leave with them. You’ll find the most uniform groups when there’s a speaker. When you can imagine what type of individual would be interested in a particular topic, you can predict who might be at that event. If those are your potential clients, sponsors, “ins” (to whatever you’re trying to “get in” to) then make time for it.

If you’re already: Going on dates
You can also: Ask out someone whose career you admire!

Whether it’s the guy in your dream job, an entrepreneurial cousin, or your boss’ boss, a note asking for their advice/guidance over coffee is all you need in the way of an invitation. Have 3 key questions prepared to get the inside scoop on how they do what they do so well and how it might apply to your current goals and challenges.

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This is all about building on what’s working. You’re already networking in some way, shape or form…I promise! Starting with what comes naturally is the best place to challenge yourself to step it up.