I recently realized, during a conversation with one of my closest friends, that I’ve unknowingly surrounded myself with people who compliment me. I’ve been lucky enough to meet these women (and men, too) at school, various jobs, and through friends and family. Without even trying, I’ve created a network of professionals who have been willing to mentor me and support me where I’m lacking in skills, motivation, or knowledge. They share lessons learned, trade services, recommend me to their acquaintances, and generally support me, and I return the favors. It’s a symbiotic relationship for all. It’s not just about what I need, and that’s the networking key.
It turns out that the purpose and importance of networking is not solely to make connections that you can cash in on later. Instead, networking is about meeting new people, supporting others and allowing them to support you when you need it. The goal of networking should always be about bringing people together to meet needs and get things done. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about networking the right way.
Be aware, be kind, and don’t be shy. Everywhere you go there’s an opportunity to meet someone new. Smile at strangers, introduce yourself to that woman next to you on the train, and be kind to everyone. You never know who you might meet and how you might be able to support each other. What do you have to lose? The least you’ll get out of it is a nice conversation to pass the commute time.
Think of others. Networking isn’t all about you. Instead of always wondering how a person can meet your needs, or how you can sell your services, consider how you might be able to help the people you know. Who might benefit from meeting this person? Or do you know someone who might be able to meet this person’s need?
Tell everyone you know about your business. It may sound simple, but if people don’t know what you do, they’ll never know if they need your services. That woman on the train might know someone who could benefit from your product. Your sister’s boss might be looking for someone who does what you do. Remind people often that you have services to offer and they’ll be much more likely to hire you.
Carry your business cards everywhere and hand them out! Again, this seems like a no-brainer, but you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve been caught empty-handed in a situation where a business card might have sealed the deal. Even if the person you meet isn’t interested in what you have to offer right now, when she’s digging through her wallet a month from now and finds your business card, you might be exactly who she needs.
Networking has clearly never been my forte. I’ve only recently become comfortable striking up conversations with complete strangers, and I still sometimes forget to mention “what I do” when I meet someone new. But I’ve learned that networking doesn’t have to be a chore. Meeting new people is fun and eventually, handing over your card when you shake hands or say good-bye will become second nature. Think of networking as weaving a net that connects people of all different walks of life and ensures they’ll have what they need when they need it, or that they’ll at least know who to call to find it.
By Ami Spencer, Technical/Freelance Writer