Networking is hard! It is daunting, time consuming, and often confusing — especially if you aren’t a natural. In fact, it can be down-right scary. You probably already know how valuable networking can be; it can help you get your day-to-day work done, advance your career, lead to a new job, or open new social groups. Networking has brought me several job opportunities and is how I met my wife (friends of friends, bar crawl, long story).
What is the first step?
There are 1000 and 1 things you can do to be a good networker, but let’s distill how you should start to a single item: pick one person this week to meet for lunch, grab a coffee with, or have an afterwork drink. It is that simple! Pick someone who you know, but not well — an acquaintance who you want to know better. Think about why you want to know them better:
- Are they someone who is great to know for business or your career?
- Are they someone you met at a party and would just like to know better because you think they are cool?
- Are they someone who you use to be close with, but have lost touch?
Just ask them would they like to grab a coffee or drink after work. If you are accommodating (a convenient time and place for them), they will likely say YES!
What do we talk about?
Them. You talk about them!
If you don’t believe me, go ahead and check out the classic Dale Carnegie book How to Make Friends and Influence People. In the book, he describes going to a dinner party and having a long conversation with another guest. They only spoke about the guest’s life and concerns — Carnegie asking question after question, but the guest not once asking about Carnegie. The guest ended up thinking Carnegie was the greatest person in the world, even though the guest knew nothing about Carnegie. The guest, who happened to be an influential person, became a lasting member of Carnegie’s network because he did something for him — Carnegie made him feel special.
Make it about them.
Tales like this abound: “One of the many intriguing things about Richard Branson is that he has this laser-focus eye contact. When he is talking to you, he’s not looking to his left, looking to his right, or anywhere else other than directly at you–he gives you his full attention”, says Ivan Misner. Branson makes you feel special and as if you are the only person in the world. He makes you feel important.
In other words, make it about them. Ask yourself: How can you help them, what can you do for them, how can you make their life/job easier? If you can bring value to the other person, you’ve made a strong network connection that can benefit you in the future. If you go in looking what they can do for you, well, you’ll probably get little or nothing.
But be sure to have a real conversation. Be interested in them — for real. People can always tell when someone is just being a sycophant. Find out what they are passionate about (sports, technology, lawns) and delve deep into that.
It is important you keep your network alive and active. After the meeting, build the relationship further by sending them a quick note via email, text, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Snapchat thanking them for the great conversation. In a few weeks, but no longer than a month or two, follow up with another get-together. Also, when LinkedIn notifies you of their anniversary or change of jobs, use that opportunity to contact them again. Don’t allow your network you’ve built to atrophy.
But that’s just the start. Make a personal goal of meeting with a different acquaintance every week — and track who you meet and when you meet. Check out MeetUp to find some networking events. Once you become comfortable with a weekly meetup, increase your networking to two different people a week and eventually make habitual contact with at least three different people a week. You’ll be amazed how easily you’ll get into a regular routine and how quickly you’ve strengthened and expanded your network!