If you’re seeking a new job, wanting more industry exposure, trying to find more customers, or attempting to attract media attention, one of the first pieces of advice you’ll get is:
“Attend networking events.”
The problem with that advice is that a lot of people don’t like networking events and aren’t good at getting results from them.
Kudos to you if you enjoy networking events and have turned them into a productive way to achieve your goals. However, unless it’s already working for you, skip networking events and use these six steps to build your network without networking events:
1. Determine Your Goals
You wouldn’t attend a university certificate program without knowing what it would do for you. Just the same, it’s prudent to start building your network by determining what you want to achieve.
Set 2-3 goals, such as:
Discover three, unadvertised job openings in my industry.
Find an informal mentor in my industry that I’ll connect with a few times a year.
Develop a new, major account in the next 6 months.
Create two new friendships.
If you do this up front, you’ll make better choices on strategy — and you’ll also be more motivated to keep going when you experience disappointment.
2. Do Your Homework
Goals will lead you to the people who should be part of your network.
If your goal is to find job opportunities, connecting with people in your industry is key. If trying to attract new customers, focus instead on people who have relationships with the kinds of people you serve.
Either way, take Dale Carnegie’s advice and, “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.” That means do your homework.
Once you know who you’re trying to reach, search their name on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google. Find out what they are posting publicly, what they are liking and sharing, and what they are writing. Determine who you know who knows them.
Many successful people have some kind of online presence. Just because Twitter isn’t your preferred communication method doesn’t mean it’s not theirs. A few minutes of searching can turn up a lot.
Make yourself an expert on them and what they’ve shared with the world publicly.
3. Get Over Yourself
This is where you, like many others, could crash and burn. You could invest time researching others, reading books, listening to podcasts, attending classes…
But then never reach out to influential people directly to make a connection.
Why not? Because you’ve convinced yourself that you’re being selfish, that nobody wants to talk to you, and that you’ll just be wasting their time anyway.
NEWSFLASH: everyone has selfish motives in building their professional network. All of us.
(Psst, the most influential people do too).
It’s a given that you’re trying to accomplish something when you start any kind of relationship. The difference maker is this principle from Dale Carnegie:
Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
The critical word is sincerely. Of course you have your own goals — but you should also be ready and willing to benefit others and to put their desires in line with yours.
4. Ask for Time
When you ask for time with someone you want to know, make sure you lead with what’s important to them.
Tap into the homework you’ve done in the previous step and ask to know more about something you’ve discovered that they know a lot about.
Perhaps they’ve had a great accomplishment in their field? Demonstrate in your request that you are aware of this and you want to discover the details of what they did.
If they are involved in an industry organization, ask about it and demonstrate your willingness to discover more. It benefits them for you to know more about their work.
Of course some people will say no, despite your sincerity. Expect a few rejections, but also expect that some people will say yes.
Most influential people know they didn’t achieve success on their own — and many of them are willing to take a few minutes to help others.
5. Listen and Be Curious
Prepare conversation points for your time with the other person, but stop short of scripting out questions. Most people would rather have an engaging conversation than feel like you’re conducting an interrogation.
Have a few conversation points handy, but don’t obsess on them during your chat. Focus your time with them on listening well and being curious.
Listening well means you hear what they are saying instead of just thinking about the next question. You already know how to do this — and you probably already do it daily with friends and family.
Being curious means you ask more questions, based on what they say or don’t say. If they say something that doesn’t make sense, ask them to clarify. If it’s not apparent how something came together, invite them to clarify it.
Some of the best things you’ll hear will come from the second or third question you could have never planned to ask.
6. Follow-Up Immediately
If someone offers to put you in touch with someone, follow-up right away.
If they promised a resource, ask for it.
If you promise to do something to help out them, make it happen that same day (if possible).
And, when someone has done something to help you (such as spending time) send a thank you note. If you can, make it handwritten. Almost nobody does that anymore and you’ll leave a positive impression lasting well beyond the first connection.