Your network can help you grow your career, secure funding or sell your product. Even dating and finding yourself a life partner uses networking skills.
Connecting at a superficial level is easier than ever – through online tools and social media, but how can you turn these connections into high-quality relationships which help you achieve your goals?
I used to hate networking, but a change in perspective helped me to use my network to:
- find myself a new job in a new field at the other end of the country
- help academics build research bids with record numbers of partners
- start my own business and grow that business through my network
- meet (and marry) the love of my life
- actually make networking fun!
Here are my top 10 tips on how to grow your network, inspired by that change in perspective
1. Know what you want
Why do you want to grow your network? What do you want from it?
Do you want to find a new job? Or sell people your products? Or find a group of like-minded people you can bounce ideas off?
Knowing these things allows you to be more targeted in where you go, who you approach and the types of relationships you build.
I find it useful to think of my network as a group of contacts that can help me to give me insight on how to achieve my goals. Different people bring expertise and perspectives which help in different areas. What makes it more fun is that you don’t always know what you will get from who!
2. Ask for advice and feedback
If you could access any advice about the things want to do, what would you want to know?
What would it be useful to know right now, which would help you move one step closer to achieving your goals?
Asking for help can be a great way to build a link and start a conversation with people you know as well as people you don’t. While it can sometimes feel like we should have all the answers before we start, thinking of our first step as “research” can be an easy way to get going.
There’s nothing more powerful than putting yourself out there by asking the world to help.
When I started looking for a new job, I initially approached friends and connections who had jobs I was interested in. I asked them about what they did on a day to day basis, what they enjoyed and didn’t enjoy. This achieved two things
- it helped me get a better idea of the sorts of jobs that were out there that I might like to do
- it got me used to talking to people I knew about the fact that I was looking for a job.
As you have conversations and discover others’ perspectives, remember to step back and reflect. Consider what you’ve found out so far and if your questions need to change. Reflect on what’s given you the most useful information. Evolve new questions based on this reflection.
3. Ask for connections
An easy way to expand your current network is to ask that network for recommendations of other people you could talk to. It’s amazing how much expertise you can reach when you expand your network to that of your friends and family too, let alone their network’s network.
Each time you have a conversation with someone about your interests and your research, ask them “who do you know that can help me explore this even further?”.
Encourage them to identify a couple of people that they could introduce you to as follow up to your conversation.
The clearer you are on the information you are looking for, the easier it will make it for them to do the introduction and the faster it will happen.
4. Develop your elevator pitch
When someone asks you what you do, you need to be prepared to tell them in a short and succinct way. You need to give enough information for them to get an impression of you while leaving scope for them to ask questions and get into the detail where they are interested.
Ideally, you should be able to describe what you do in a way anyone can understand in less than a minute.
While you do your pitch you can gauge what they might be interested in knowing more about by how they react and the questions they ask.
This way you don’t spend ages talking to someone trying to explain something they don’t understand anyway and can focus on connecting over the things most relevant to them.
5. Connect with interest groups
Think carefully about where people might go that have common interests to you or have the answers to the questions you have.
Are there online groups or local groups which are either addressing a similar challenge or who can help you answer your questions?
Go there and start a conversation. Your questions give you a starting point and a purpose, through which you can quickly find the people who can help you. Your network will naturally grow.
6. Aim for quality rather than quantity
Whilst having loads of connections can be a great boost for your ego and make you feel popular, if the person won’t remember you in the future, then that person isn’t much use in your network.
When you meet someone it’s much better to take the time to get to know them and give them time to get to know you than it is to flit around, meeting lots of people on a superficial level. This is particularly important if you want to grow a network which helps and supports you. The better the quality of relationships, the better the support you will receive.
7. Be interested in others
Are you nervous or worried that people may not find you interesting? That you’ll run out of things to say and they’ll find you boring?
I’ll share my secret with you: everybody likes to talk about themselves. All you need to do to come across as an interesting person during a new interaction is to listen and ask questions.
A great example of this is when you meet someone new and all they do is talk about themselves, showing very little interest in you. People often do this when they’re nervous. They churn out a constant stream of information, babbling away to try to appear interesting. What happens is that they turn people off by only appearing to be interested in their own views and opinions.
When someone is interested in you they will ask questions and adapt the follow-up responses based on your answer.
So the secret to being interesting is to listen to people and be interested in them.
Once you understand a bit more about who you are talking to you can adapt your elevator pitch and questions based on what you’ve learnt about them. This allows you to show that you’re listening and that you’re interested. In this way, you build deeper, more meaningful connections.
8. Be helpful and add value
It’s important that you give more than you take from your network. People tend to reciprocate, meaning that if you do things for them and add value to their world they are much more likely to be responsive to you.
How do you know how to add value for an individual?
Again listening is a key skill here! If there’s something you can offer that might help them out, put it out there and see if they are interested.
Sometimes this can be the smallest thing, that takes very little effort for you, but delivers huge value to them.
I often find myself connecting two people in my network who I know are interested in similar things – all it takes for me is an intro – and before you know it a new productive relationship has emerged.
Interactions like this also give you an easy way to stay in touch with members of your network and grow the connections into high-quality relationships.
9. Get their contact details
It’s very common to think that the most important thing to do when you meet someone is to give them your contact details. However, this gives them control in following up. It puts you in the waiting seat until they find the chance to get in touch.
If you meet someone who you would like to speak to again, make sure you get their details. This allows you to initiate the follow-up and significantly increase the chances of that connection being made.
If they don’t have a business card, then use a piece of paper, your phone, connect on Linked-In or find some other way to make sure that you have a way to get in touch. If they aren’t keen to give you their details then take this as feedback that you’ve not managed to light enough of a spark in this person and its unlikely things will progress any further anyway.
10. Have fun, keep it light and don't take it personally
Building a network is about connecting with people and building relationships. The more fun you can have with it and the less seriously you can take it, the more you’ll find people are drawn to you.
When we meet new people it can be easy to take things personally and feel rejected if you don’t click or if someone doesn’t follow up with you.
While it can be worth reflecting on what’s working and what doesn’t, it’s also important to recognise that everyone you meet is in their own challenging world. You don’t know how busy they are, how much pressure they’re under, what’s happening in their personal life or anything about how they will react beyond your meeting.
So if they do a disappearing act, or don’t follow up – let it go. It’s their loss! Move on, have fun and enjoy meeting some more people!
I hope you find these tips and alternative approach to networking useful and make it easier and more enjoyable for you.
Do you have other tips that you can add? If so please do share them below!
If you’d like to grow your network to boost your career, my Reboot Your Career session is a fantastic starting point, helping you understand where you want to go and be more focused in how you make use of your network to get there. You can find out more and book here.