8 Steps To Growing Your Network And Get New Job Opportunities
Networking, the overly-used cliche term we say any moment we pass out business cards like a club promoter handing out event flyers, in hopes that one of those “strangers” we handed out a flyer would remember us one day and actually pick up the phone to call and offer you a job.
For many years while I was a student and during my early professional years, I had this mindset of networking as an event to attend and snag up as many business cards as you can. You know, go home and add to the pile of hundreds of cards on my desk, of which I know not one of those individuals personally. In recent years I’ve learned the value of building a strong network through relationships and that has created countless opportunities in my life today.
Creating your network is about building relationships with the people you meet, being able to clearly express to them what do you do? what are your professional abilities, and how can you utilize your knowledge and skills to help solve their problems, and these people in return would become an invaluable resource to you.
Here are the 8 steps to help in growing your network to get new job opportunities, and make you more relevant among your professional circles.
1. Become more sociable.
Every time you meet people is an opportunity to “network”. Most people think that networking only happens at these so-called networking events, but you should be ready to network everyday. No I don’t mean that you should hand out your business card at every moment you meet a new person for 10 seconds and that’s your idea of “network”.
Effective networking means that you are actually talking to people, asking them questions to understand what exactly they do, their roles at their jobs, their challenges and future interests. You should never go straight into sales mode or “business card” mode. Become genuinely interested in the conversations you have with people you meet and make them to remember who you are or what you briefly discussed about, and if the individual is a potential interest you want to land, ask them to get his/her contact details so that you could stay in touch, and offer a “follow-up” email. Networking is about making a connection, adding value to the people you meet, and staying connected, not forcing business cards.
2. Be More Helpful.
One of my favorite books, “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi, is a book I have recommended to almost every person I know. Finding ways to help other people personally and professionally is one of the most effective ways to build a strong network. By becoming helpful to people, you are building a level of trust with them, which often results in more favors returned to you, by people recommending you to others who are looking to pay for a similar help.
You can be helpful just as simple as responding to someone’s tweets about questions for help, or passing along a useful article you read to others who would need that information, sending an email to that person you networked with in step 1 (above) to recommend a particular service/tool/individual that would help them in the issue they’re facing, you can also offer your services for free to people within your community, and have them recommend you to their friends and others. You should realize that you can’t be the right person to service every potential client, therefore it is good faith to pass work to someone else you know, when you feel that you’re not the right person for the project. This is a very huge way to strengthen or build new relationships, at the same time offering the client a great referral. Both the client and the person you recommended will be very happy to return the favor when you least expect it.
3. Join a group.
A great way to grow your network instantly is by joining a professional group that meets occasionally for events or gatherings. Groups such as the Toastmasters Club, Mastermind club, your local Chamber of Commerce, leadership organizations or Meetup interest groups, are all great ways to make new friends while growing your network by meeting up occasionally and exploring similar interests with these groups of individuals.
You can also join groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, engage in discussions with members of the group, ask questions, arrange a way to meet offline if you will be visiting their city in the near future.
4. Everybody loves a good coffee.
As a personal rule of thumb, I reconnect with at least one contact per week over coffee, as a way to just catch up on what they’re working on, genuinely nurturing my relationships and finding ways to add value to them. You should invite people out to coffee to learn more about their industry and profession, their interests, upcoming projects, however try to avoid small talk.
I generally reach out to people who are better than me in one area/industry or more, find a convenient time to meet them at a coffee shop, and always come prepared with questions to ask, and always leave them with a way you can add value to them. Budgeting to spend $10 once every week or two weeks in relationship building can help lead you to a great recommendations to new clients or projects.
5. Be a super connector.
A connector is someone who introduces one person to another person that may compliment one another’s skills or areas of interests. On so many occasions I’ve said to different people “hey, I’ve got someone you’d really love to meet!” That simple. Now the idea isn’t to just connect any two people you know for the heck of it, this isn’t Tinder dating. You must know who your contacts are, something important about them, their expertise or areas of struggle, and importantly, how can these two people benefit from meeting each other? These are questions you need answer before playing Cupid.
You can connect people through email introductions or in-person casual settings. Connecting people can create opportunities for them (realize I didn’t say, “You”) and help solve other people’s problems, therefore you are creating value to them. People always remember the connections and opportunities you created for them directly or indirectly, and favors will come flowing back to you.
6. Attend events locally.
A really simple way to build up your network is to attend events around your personal or professional interests. Yes, sure you can just sit on LinkedIn all day and click to connect to new professionals and you call that “networking”, however that would not work to get you future opportunities. Going to local events to meet others with similar interests is a great way for you to meet professionals in that industry area who you can listen and learn from, discover what’s happening within the industry, and also sharing your skills and knowledge with other people.
When you attend these events, avoid being the networking “hopper”, you know, that schmooze who hops from one person to another every 30 seconds just handing out a stack of business cards or picking up cards from every person in the room. This is not a race nor is there a prize for the person with the most cards at the conclusion of the event. Instead, spend the time to have a genuine conversation with no more than 4 people (per hour) at that event, get to know their business or profession and industry, something interesting about them, build rapport, ask questions about their line of work, share some helpful information, insights or recommendation with them, and lastly, leave them with a reason to want to connect with you and follow up with you at a later date.
Click here to find great networking opportunities and events in your city through these sites:
7. Social media is your friend.
Social media can be a great way to build your network online and also interact with industry experts to tap into their knowledge base. You should optimize your LinkedIn profile so that it stands out and include relevant information about your work, industry interests, resume and clients. Join groups within your interests and it’s very important to engage within those group discussions so that people begin to know who you are and what you do professionally. The Social Media Examiner has a great guide on how to build a powerful network using LinkedIn. Your level of engagement is directly proportional to the opportunities you’ll receive through your online connections.
Twitter is also a great social networking platform, where you should be engaging in conversations with people and connecting with contacts who you potentially want to meet or work with. Talk to them about their works, you can offer your assistance to them, or a good constructive criticism, get to know what project they are working on and ask for ways you can offer some help or work with them.
If you are a Facebook user, I highly recommend you to begin utilizing it as a networking platform instead by joining Facebook groups that would be of highest value to you. Learn how to effectively network using Facebook groups through this article.
8. Learning does not end after graduation.
Use books to gain more expert insights about specific industries, refining your skills through online learning platforms, engaging with sites that are tailored to your specific industry or interest, attending local workshops. All of these will help you to build up your networking skills, and also give you conversational topics whenever you meet people.
Here are some great books on networking:
- Never Eat Alone — By Keith Ferrazzi
- How to Win Friends and Influence People — By Dale Carnegie
- The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams — On Your Terms — By Sara Horowitz
Networking is very important not only for making connections but to build valuable relationships that will lead to new business opportunities, inside leads to companies and clients, and collaborative opportunities with other individuals, most importantly, it can lead you to your big dream job.
So before you go printing up your next batch of 1000 more business cards to give away, you should ask yourself first, how am I creating value for my existing contacts and the recent connections I’ve made? Follow the steps above and you will generate incredible value out of your existing network by reciprocally feeding value into it.
What other ways have been helpful to you in growing your network? Please leave a comment below or tweet us @hipsternomics!