Networking is not an exact science. Your next gig could come from anywhere because opportunities are everywhere. We need to knock on doors until the right ones open. And by knocking on doors, I mean talking to people, any people, all people, anytime and anywhere.
Having the confidence to network
It takes confidence to network. And we’re not always feeling it. Personally, I was too scared to network, so I buried myself in ‘critical tasks’ procrastinating for a couple of months. My business mentor saw right through me and told me to get out there – now.
If you’re struggling to network, don’t worry. Start by contacting ex-colleagues/bosses that you know well. If you’re not up to that, contact friends and invite them out for a coffee during work hours and ask them what’s going on in their industry.
I found the following useful before I started networking:
A professionally designed business card was a real confidence boost
My LinkedIn profile up to date
A simple business website
An elevator pitch really helped when I was starting out
I also found it useful to record my networking in a spreadsheet so I could see my progress and keep track of conversations
There are heaps of free tools online to help you create any of the above.
Where’s your network?
When I say networks I include social, professional and LinkedIn as work opportunities can turn up via any network. You must be ready with a snappy elevator pitch, a clear overview of your services, the value you provide – backed up with a couple of real-life examples.
Social networking is gold
Your next work opportunity or network connection can come from anywhere and happen at any time. I met a digital recruiter at a friend’s birthday party and was offered a work opportunity on a Bumble date!
The trick is to talk to people. Find out what they do, tell them what you do. These conversations are valuable. So, listen carefully, the person you chat with at the bus stop next week may have some information you need.
Professional networks are key
Ex colleagues and bosses that you have stayed in contact with are a rich source of information, referrals, and opportunities. As you are for them. Networking with these people is a total win-win situation. I’m in regular contact with several ex-bosses that I really clicked with. I respect them for their knowledge and expertise and trust their advice. I also catch up socially with people I’ve worked with – smart people that are excellent at what they do. They’re my sounding boards, I use their services, and we refer work to each other. Many of them have become good friends.
Industry groups that you’re part of, like meetups, are also an excellent source of professionals to click with. You can meet people from related industries that aren’t competing with you for work. So, it’s a great place for referrals and to form collaborations – Content Strategists working with User Experience professionals, for example.
Then there’s LinkedIn
LinkedIn is where your people are at. People in your industry and in related industries. LinkedIn is where your next contract or job is very likely to come from.
Your LinkedIn profile acts as an always-on CV and can be found by people looking for your skills. You can stay connected with people you’ve worked with and see what they’re up to now. It’s Facebook for professionals. That’s how I’ve used LinkedIn for years.
Then I discovered my LinkedIn news feed. I was amazed at how much incredibly useful information people shared. I started by liking and commenting on other people’s posts and articles. As my confidence increased, I shared other people’s articles. As my confidence grew further, I created LinkedIn posts and began sharing my own blog posts.
LinkedIn is an excellent place to have a professional opinion. Become known as an expert in your field by sharing your knowledge about your industry. Your audience is already there, so you don’t have to go looking for one.
Good things happen when you leave the house
Networking builds momentum and opportunities flow from there and often they didn’t come from anyone I was directly networking with. It didn’t even matter who the conversations were with. All that seemed to matter was that I had conversations about what I do and what they do. I know now that when I stop ‘getting out there’ opportunities stop coming my way when I needed them.
I’ve gained something of value every time I’ve meet someone for a coffee and chat; a referral, the name of a great book, a link to an article, an industry insight, a great business tip. And, I’ve been able to practice my ‘spiel’ to find what resonated and what confused people. I have a reason to leave my house, get out of my own head, and chat with smart adults. I always feel uplifted and inspired after my chats and a tad more confident that I’m going to succeed.
The important thing is to just network. Get the ball rolling, leave the house and get out there. Nothing will turn up if you don’t start having conversations with people. Networking is like anything – the more you do it, the more your confidence grows.
What I’ve learned:
Networking opportunities are everywhere, all the time. Life is networking. Your next work opportunity could come from any of your networks – including your social circles.
Be ready to talk to people, all people, everywhere, anytime. Have an elevator pitch, a simple overview of your services, the value you offer and some real-life examples – and a business card
Good things happen when you leave the house. Catch up with people in your network for coffee. You’ll get something of value from every meeting.
It doesn’t really seem to matter who you network with. It’s just important to network. Your work opportunities may not even come from the people you’re directly networking with.
Networking builds an opportunity momentum. When you don’t network the opportunities seem to dry up