Whether you like it or not, networking is an essential part of your career development. At its worst, networking can feel forced, unnatural, and often a waste of time. At it’s best though, networking can be a gateway to amazing opportunities, mentors, and potential collaborators. Here’s how you can grow your professional network in an organic way–no cringe-worthy moments required.
Because isn’t the whole point of the internet to minimize the need for awkward face-to-face interactions? Social media allows you to connect with people regardless of their geographic location. It also allows you to actively seek out others who align with your goals, passion, or purpose. So get to scrolling, follow some people who are doing things that are in line with your interests, show them some love, and reach out when it makes sense. Engaging on social media is a great way to meet people in your industry and to participate in conversations about your craft.
As wonderful as it would be to do all your networking from the comfort of your own home, you should still make an effort to get facetime with people in your area every now and then. Aim to find at least one networking event per month and have your business cards ready to go! If local events don’t happen often in your region, consider attending conferences related to your industry. Some of my favorite freelance jobs have come from meeting people in the lobby of conferences. Never underestimate the power of a warm smile!
Turn to tech
In addition to social media, there are tons of apps that are aimed at connecting professionals. Check out Bumble Bizz, Shapr, or Meet Up to connect with professionals based on your similar interests or industries.
Refine your elevator pitch
One of the easiest ways to avoid awkward introductions is to come to any networking scenario with a prepared elevator pitch. My mentor Pauleanna Reid has a flawless formula for creating the perfect elevator pitch. Once you get that down you’ll be able to start conversations with confidence and let people know exactly what you’re all about.
Always follow up
Never let a good lead go cold! If you meet someone who piques your interest, make sure to follow up with them a couple of days after your initial meeting to say that it was great meeting them. It doesn’t have to be formal, but it shows that you are interested in getting to know them. Networking is all about nurturing relationships over long periods of time, and the follow up is step one in that nurture process.
Another way to eliminate the awkwardness of networking is to understand what the person you’re talking to is working on and determine how your specific skill set can help them achieve their goals. Instead of making small talk, ask them specific questions about their business and try to understand their needs, and see how you can help solve one of their problems. Successful people generally don’t have time to exchange countless emails or LinkedIn messages that go nowhere. Be clear about how you can make their life easier and you’ll have much more success in grabbing their time and attention.
Make it measurable
Set a goal for how many people you want to meet each month, whether it’s online or in person. Keep track of how many new people you add to your network, and keep their contact information organized in a spreadsheet so that whenever you have a specific question, you can go through your digital Rolodex and find someone with the expertise you need.
Give it time
Like I said before, networking is a long game. You’ve got to consistently nurture your relationships, and often times it will be years before you see a tangible benefit from a connection that you make. But it’s important to consistently make yourself known, be vocal about your ability to provide value, and above all, let the relationship evolve organically. People can smell bullshit from a mile away, so don’t bother being fake with them or trying to force your way into their lives.
Networking doesn’t have to be as complicated as people make it out to be. I’ve had some great opportunities come my way thanks to the relationships that I’ve made over the years. Just remember not to force it, and that every connection that you make should be mutually beneficial.
If you’re looking to expand your network right away, connect with me on LinkedIn and we can chat!