Networking always sounds like such a dirty word. It has the connotation that you’re only meeting people to get something from them. The truth is, networking is just another way of saying “make friends” (ideally ones in high places, but I digress).
You may be surprised that someone you met at a yoga retreat would turn out to be the key to your next job. Remember 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon? Yes, you are only a few degrees away from the Oprah, POTUS, or Mark Zuckerberg of your chosen field. Your barista, your college roommate, or your new rock-climbing buddy, may have the ear of someone you want to meet.
Here are a few tips to help take the “work” out of networking:
Start With Your Interests
Business groups are not the only places to meet people, so keep doing what you’re doing. Be social and seek out your interests. Wine clubs, sports bars, book clubs and cooking classes are all fair game. You will have more luck forging lasting relationships with people who already share your interests.
When you already have a friendship based on common interests, it’s infinitely easier to veer a conversation into work. You might be surprised to find that your new foodie friend may be working for a company that you’ve always wanted to know more about.
Diversity is Important
If you only know people inside of your industry, your network is very small. You likely know all the same people and provide all the same services. By knowing many different people in different fields, the likelihood of being able to meet someone outside of your industry increases.
These days, people are constantly changing companies, changing interests or changing careers. You may not have thought that knowing the pitcher in your softball league would have any bearing on your next career move—until you discover she used to work in an industry that you want to break into but had no connection to previously. That’s your network, hard at work.
Just like a date, if you had a great time, you should follow up. Share that article that you were chatting about or the recipe that you promised would kill at their next party. Following up is a great reminder to your new acquaintance of how you met them and how much fun it was to chat with you. Reach out on LinkedIn or Facebook. Connect. Don’t be a stranger.
Networking a Long Game
Relationships take time. If you have something in common, like sports, a hobby, or common interests, it makes it easier to keep in touch by taking advantage of that common “touch-point.”
I had a boss who would cultivate those kinds of relationships for years. Sending an email about fantastic meal that reminded him of his foodie contact, or remembering that his contact’s son was graduating this year was his way of reminding his contacts of his existence. He used to joke that even if you didn’t do any business with them in all those years, when you finally did do a deal together, it didn’t feel like the first time.
Networking is actually pretty simple. Keep in touch—that builds relationships. Like any good relationship, even “business contacts” require a little give and take. You can’t expect someone to be there for you if you haven’t been there for them. The qualities of strong business relationships, trust and confidence, are built over time. Take the time and you will network like a pro.