Networking is essential to business success, yet it tends to be a low priority for many busy professionals. I can’t stress this enough: Establish your network now, when you don’t need it, so it’s there when you do.
People want to help someone they know and trust, not someone who only reaches out when they want something. Think of networking as a bank account. You have to make deposits before you can make withdrawals. Help others and establish yourself as a resource for them; these are your deposits, which you can withdraw in the future.
Networking doesn’t have to be formal; every interaction is an opportunity. Below are five ways to immediately cultivate your network.
1. Speak to a new person in the hall, elevator, break room, cafeteria or wherever you come in contact with co-workers. Remember, every interaction is an opportunity for networking.
2. Invite someone you normally only see in meetings, whom you don’t know well personally, to coffee. A personal connection goes a long way when you are in the midst of solving a tough problem together.
3. Schedule lunch with someone to get to know them better in a more informal setting. Everyone has to eat; this is an easy way to carve out time for networking. Put this on your calendar and establish a rhythm.
4. Target more formal avenues for networking, such as regional NEW events, and identify your passion and find a corresponding volunteer opportunity where you can help others. You’ll feel good while expanding your network. If you have kids, get involved in school activities, donate your time to the girl and/or boy scouts or volunteer as a coach for their favorite sport. Parents can be a resource for one another, personally and professionally.
5. Renew connections and keep them alive through social media — and initiate new connections with people who have similar interests as you through LinkedIn.
Now that you’re ready to expand your network, use this four-point checklist to make the most out of your networking:
- Establish your purpose. Ask yourself: What do I want to get out of this interaction? Is there an opportunity to leverage another’s expertise or gain a different perspective? Perhaps you have an open position to fill and want to reach out beyond your own contacts. Or you need help navigating a complex matrix organizational structure. Think through the purpose of your meeting.
- Do your homework. Find out more about the other individual and their interests and mention something you have in common when you meet with them. This helps the conversation flow more easily and establishes a connection early on.
- Make it about the other person. Ask how you can help them or explore areas where you can be a resource. It’s a great way to establish the reciprocal nature of the relationship from the onset — it’s not just about what you need.
- Express genuine interest. Be curious and ask questions. Practice active listening and remain open and curious to what the other person has to say. Being engaged demonstrates you are truly interested in helping them.
Today take at least one step to start — and make the most out of — networking.