“Your network is your net worth.” It’s a catchy saying you’ve probably heard before. And, yes, the sentiment holds some water. You know that your professional network is a key part of how you advance in your career and elevate your reputation.
But, what do you do if you feel like you don’t have much of an existing network behind you? Sure, you have a few contacts you’ve met over the years, but you wouldn’t quite consider it a full-blown “network”—and now you’re eager to build up a web of people that you can rely on for everything from advice to job leads.
This is exactly what today’s “Dear Kat” question covers:
“Dear Kat, I see so much advice about the importance of growing a professional network—and I get it. But, here’s my problem: I have no idea how to actually go about building my network. Talking to strangers can be awkward, and I’m not sure how to start forming relationships with these people. Any tips to share?”
First, rest assured that pretty much everybody (yes, even the most polished and self-assured people among us!) feels awkward about networking. It can often be a somewhat forced and unnatural exchange, which is enough to make anybody feel uneasy.
However, that doesn’t mean you can skip it altogether. Building, growing, and maintaining your professional network is still crucial—awkward or not. So, here are some tips that can help you do just that.
1. Change Your View
So many people have a very formal view of networking. In their minds, it’s a quick conversation (filled with a few inevitable and uncomfortable pauses and some uneasy sips of your cheap wine) when you need to spit out your elevator pitch, sell your skills, fork over your business card, and then move on.
But, networking doesn’t need to fit into this “speed dating” sort of mold. When you think about it, all it really involves is a conversation—and you can strike those up anywhere (no name tags or lukewarm chicken skewers required).
Don’t be afraid to flip the script and change your perspective of networking. Whether you want to attend a formal event or simply strike up a chat with someone in line at the grocery store, it all counts. You don’t need to be so hard on yourself by convincing yourself that only very specific situations qualify as “networking”.
2. Join Industry Groups
Joining groups is a great way to meet people in your same field or industry. And, considering the fact that they’ve already gone ahead and joined that group, you can assume that they’re open to making new connections too.
Do a quick search to find out what groups and associations exist that you could be a good fit with (hey, you’ve already done it—you’re part of Pink Petro!).
Whether it’s a national or international group that only corresponds online or a local chapter that meets in person, it’s an easy and natural way to connect with people that you already share some common ground with.
3. Get Out There
Of course, industry groups and associations are great. But, that’s not the only way you can find people who have similar interests or aspirations.
If you want to stick to sitting behind your computer, consider checking out relevant Twitter chats or LinkedIn groups that you can join. If you’re eager to get out there and shake some hands? Join a book club or a recreational sports team. Really, anywhere you can interact and discuss a common passion or topic is great!
The important part is to put yourself out there. You won’t meet new people if you don’t.
4. Know Your Colleagues
Yes, the main purpose of networking is to meet new people. But, sometimes it’s far too easy to get so focused on making external connections that we completely forget to get to know the people in our own office.
Don’t overlook the importance of networking with your own co-workers—whether you work closely with them or not. You’re already starting with something big in common (you work for the same place!), and your colleagues can be incredible connections now as well as when you move on from that company.
So, don’t neglect your own co-workers. Forming solid connections with them is ultimately just as important.
5. Follow Up
Imagine that you just met someone at a networking event or a conference. You two had a great discussion and exchanged business cards. Now what?
This is where so many people’s networking skills fall short. Remember, networking is about relationships—not one-off conversations. That means you need to put in the work to keep that connection warm, rather than letting it fizzle as soon as you both rip off those sticky name tags.
Put that business card to good use! Send an email letting that person know how much you enjoyed talking with him or her and that you’re looking forward to staying connected. You can also send a LinkedIn request (with a personalized message, of course!) to stay in touch on that platform.
Whatever you do, don’t assume that the simple act of shaking hands is enough to build your network. It involves a little more than that.
6. Keep in Touch
In a similar vein, you can’t look at networking as building a stockpile of contacts—you don’t just add endless people to your network and then let them collect dust.
While it’s important to reach out soon after meeting, you also need to make every effort to keep in touch with that person. Send the occasional email with an article you think she’d find interesting. Or, send along some well wishes when you see on LinkedIn that he moved to a new job or landed a promotion.
They’re little things that won’t require much elbow grease on your part. But, they’ll go a long way in making sure that you have a valuable network of real connections—rather than tons of people that you interacted with briefly only once.
A solid network is key. But, that doesn’t mean that building one is effortless. Fortunately, it’s something you can definitely handle—as long as you’re willing to put in a little bit of effort! Apply these six tips, and you’re sure to grow your own web of professional contacts.