It is never too early to start building your network. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes people make with networking is to wait until they need something before they start. I’ve seen the look of fear on the faces of people who have just found out they’re losing their job or missed their sales quota. It’s not simply the loss that they’re reacting to. It is also the terrifying realization that they put off network building for too long and now it’s not there when they really need it.
Why We’re Not Networking
So why do people put off networking even though they know how beneficial it is to their careers?
Fear. Many people are uncomfortable introducing themselves to strangers, especially in networking formats that can feel ‘unnatural’. I’ve had clients tell me that they’re not good at networking, so they just don’t do it. But there’s only one way to get better – practice. It’s far scarier to have to ask someone for help finding a job if you’ve never met them than it is to say hello with nothing at stake.
Complacency. This one comes up the most with people who are more experienced in their fields. “Finishing this other project is more important.” “I’ve been to those trade group events before.” ” I don’t need those CPE credits for another year.” And the evergreen, “Networking is for the new people, I don’t need to do it anymore”. But networking builds on itself, and if you’ve let your network languish you’re going to have to re-engage it.
Time Management. “I would like to go but I’m too busy.” This is the one I hear the most – because it’s often true. If you don’t consider networking part of your work, you’ll never have time for it. Build time into your schedule for networking so that it’s not the thing that always falls by the wayside.
The Benefits of Networking
The good news is that it’s never too late to start networking. Whether you reach out to old networks or start from scratch, consistent networking will reap many benefits. Including:
- A peer group to talk to about important issues and updates in your field. These could be as complicated as regulatory issues or as simple as fresh ideas to help improve office morale.
- The development of long term business contacts to assist your growing business and your professional development.
- Access to opportunities. Peer-to-peer referrals are one of the strongest business tools you can have access to. The larger your network, and stronger, your network, the more business opportunities you will have access to.
- “Personal branding” opportunities will allow you to raise your profile in the your community and let people know about your expertise. The more people you can be a resource for, the more your network will expand.
8 Easy Steps to Networking:
The most successful people in their fields network throughout their careers. While the groups they go to and the styles they use may change over time, they all have a common trait – they know people.
So once you’ve determined why you’re not networking – and decided that you want to – how do you move forward?
- Identify two networking groups that people in your field attend. Don’t reinvent the wheel – ask other successful people in your office what they do. Join these groups (if applicable) and register for the events.
- Research. Spend time learning what the group or event is about. Find out about the speakers, the topics that will be discussed and who else will be going. Doing your homework will make it easier to make connections when you’re there.
- Get there early. Many times networking events will have coffee or receptions before the main event. This is a time to mingle and introduce yourself to people before groups start to form. Not only will you be more memorable, it will be easier to meet people.
- Don’t over think it. Most attendees are there for the same reason you are – to meet people. So introduce yourself. And remember that you’re there to add value to conversations, not to set up meetings.
- Be Yourself. Building a network is about personal connections. As your relationships deepen, your authentic self will emerge, so make sure the initial impressions you give are not based on a fake persona.
- People, not business. If you’re in sales, save the sales pitch; if you’re looking for a job, keep your resume in your folder. Remember that this is about building, not taking. The more you offer of yourself, the more you will get in return.
- Follow up. All the hands you shake and people you meet won’t matter without follow up. Use a contact management system – there are a lot of good ones – to help you remember the details of the people you meet. Then follow up with them. Send an email about the conversation you had and ask if there’s any way you can help them.
- Be consistent. Going to one meeting a year won’t be helpful. Build regular networking events into career development. As you get more involved, take more active leadership roles in the groups you like.
By adding your own style to these steps, you’ll find that you’re more confident and that networking gets easier and easier. The more you make networking a part of your job, the more natural it will be. And most importantly, the more you’re there for your network, the more the other people in it will be there for you.
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