“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” African proverb
Many tout the importance of networking, but few of us like to do it. Like eating right and staying fit, it takes some discipline. Especially now, during a pandemic!
Here’s networking in three (relatively) easy steps:
1. Make networking a priority
Why? Two compelling reasons.
First, to get a job when you need one. Most people get a job through a contact of one of their contacts. In other words, through the friend of a friend, or through the friend of a friend of a friend. Jobs are rarely secured by tossing a resume onto a huge stack. Jobs are secured by gaining visibility because someone on the inside vouches for you, even though the connection is often indirect. But that connection gives you a chance.
Second, personal growth. This benefit is immediate and applies regardless of whether you ever need your network to find a new job. You’ll learn from the people you build relationships with, and you’ll have a richer life because of the connections you make. You’ll get ideas from them, you’ll hear different approaches to life and business, and you’ll learn lessons they’ve learned vicariously, and you’ll meet their friends. You’ll gain knowledge, insight, and wisdom.
If you don’t need a job now, all the better. It’s easier to build relationships if you’re not seen as being needy (asking for something) when you approach.
2. Cast a wide net both inside and outside your present organization
Think about who you want to reach out to, and why? Are you trying to build broader or deeper relationships in your company? Are you looking for a sponsor within your company, or a mentor? Are you trying to find new clients, or deepen relationships with existing ones? Are you trying to create relationships within your industry? Are you seeking advice on how to solve a specific problem? Are you trying to understand another line of work for a possible career change?
Pick the lowest hanging fruit first: your close relations. Re-engage and strengthen relationships with people you already know well enough to comfortably reach out to them. Colleagues, friends, parents of friends, former classmates, your trainer, tennis partners. This is the perfect time to ask people how they are holding up and to tell them you’re thinking about them in this unsettling time. Create a list of people to check in with and then do it. Shoot for at least 20 people on this list.
Next, connect with people you already have an entree to. Acquaintances, people you have been introduced to but never followed up with, or people you don’t know but can access relatively easily through your existing network. Not quite as much in your comfort zone, but not too challenging either. Maybe identify and reach out to 10 of these.
Finally, reach out to strangers. Particularly people who can help you master your chosen field, understand a new field, or give advice you need now. If you like your present line of work, then seek to understand it even better by connecting with experts in your field. These could be retired industry legends, professors, service providers, even competitors. If you want to learn more about a different field that you might move to, research successful people in that field and try to engage them. Your ultimate goal is an information interview to help you learn more and decide whether this work is really what you want to do.
How do you connect with a stranger you’ve identified? If you can approach them though someone you know your odds of your success increase exponentially. But if you can’t, reach out anyway. What’s the worst that can happen? The person ignores you. So what? You will be no worse off than you are now. Do some sleuthing to procure the person’s email address. Then craft a succinct email with a compelling subject line to get the person to open the message. In your first sentence or two, say what it is you want and why you’ve identified this person as someone to reach out to. Next, if possible, identify the value proposition to the person of engaging with you. Finally, ask for a reasonable amount of time, which is no more than 20 minutes. 15 minutes is better still. Propose whatever medium for engagement (phone call, zoom call, coffee while social distancing, etc.) you think works best. Reaching out to strangers is more challenging, so maybe start with 5 of these.
3. Give value for value, and even for no value
Look for things you can do for the people you connect with. Building relationships is about adding value to other people. It’s about you, but it’s just as much about them too. Like and comment on blogs or articles that your connections post. Congratulate your contacts on promotions and other achievements. Give people recommendations on LinkedIn. Connect your contacts with each other when doing so will help one or both of them. Send your contacts an article or research that’s helpful, give good advice or encouragement, or do something for their kids. Like building any relationship worth having, it takes time, effort, and giving value. And don’t keep score. The best networkers are those who are genuinely interested in other people, and who are willing to give without regard to what they might ultimately get.
The virus is no reason to stop networking, and if you haven’t given much thought to networking now is a fine time to start. Take some of the time you save by not commuting and use it to reach out to people. When this crisis passes – whenever that may be, and it’s likely no time soon – you’ll want to look back and point to things you accomplished. And that includes building your network.