Networking is one of those business buzzwords that appears on every "ways to succeed" and "career advancement tips" list. We all know that we need to network to advance our careers, but many of us don't find it easy.
Networking can feel awkward, forced, fake or just plain scary. Introverted people struggle much more; but the good news is that introverts can also work at networking successfully. Despite how nervous you may feel, networking is a great way to advance your career faster.
In this article, we'll look at tips for networking in a way that makes you feel authentic and true to yourself. Because, really, you don't have to wear fancy suits and flashy business cards to do it right (as we've always been led to believe).
Why should you network?
Meeting other people in a professional environment can help you access new opportunities, gain professional advocates, supporters and mentors; increase your confidence, feel supported, validated and have a community of people to exchange ideas with. Sounds good, doesn't it? While you will always build a network naturally by simply talking to the people you work with on a daily basis, going beyond that and building a broader network than your immediate professional acquaintances will allow you to advance your career more quickly. The more people you know, the more people you can ask for advice and the more likely you are to be offered a job opportunity.
If you're wondering why you should network, you have to ask yourself: do you like to get more projects, and therefore more money, do you want to meet new people who will provide you with more learning? Maybe professional growth doesn't interest you and you're perfectly comfortable where you are. That's fine. But why not talk to more people about the things you're passionate about? Why not learn from others and see where new conversations take you?
The point is, really, networking is nothing more than having conversations. It's socializing. You may not need to have a concrete agenda, like getting a new project or finding a professional mentor for life, but it can help to know what you want to get out of it, even if it's just learning and experiencing new things.
9 tips for natural networking
We're not going to tell you to "prepare your elevator pitch" here, natural and authentic networking doesn't have to require a lot of advance preparation. Getting your head in the right place is most of the work.
Start with family, friends and the people around you:
If you don't feel comfortable meeting strangers, start your networking journey by sharing your career goals and challenges with people you already know. Ask for advice and practice expressing yourself in a comfortable environment.
Instead of starting from scratch with people you've never met, you can consider using digital channels to engage in conversations with people you used to have relationships with. For example, old college friends or people you worked with at a previous job.
Reach out to people you can help in some way:
Maybe you can offer to host a lunch-and-learn program with an acquaintance of your client's that you're doing another project for; that way when guests ask who was in charge of the event, your name will come up and a conversation will begin. Or you can reach out to people on LinkedIn and send them valuable resources related to your work. It's a great way to network without feeling like you're asking for something.
Be open and responsive:
Effective communication shows that you value someone's time and that you are a reliable contact. Follow up and respond to messages promptly.
If you want to connect with someone specifically, think about how you could work with that person on a project or collaborate on something together. For example, you could reach out to someone to ask if they would like to participate in a hackathon with you, or to work on a business idea you have.
Being mysterious doesn't suit you, so don't hide your intentions. Instead, be upfront with people about what you want and don't be afraid to ask for it without holding back. For example, if you're approaching someone to mentor you, tell them you'd like to talk about the possibilities that offers, rather than expecting it to come up naturally in conversation.
Ask for an introduction:
Ask a co-worker or friend to introduce you to someone you'd like to connect with. This can be a good way to be taken seriously, as a personal reference can go a long way in gaining someone's trust.
Lean on what you know:
For many of us, that will be the work we do day in and day out. Take an interest in your niche and where it's headed. Research new developments and topics of interest so you always have something to talk about with people at events.
Think of it as a way to socialize:
Meet people in an informal setting and after you have a relationship built over time, you can ask for help in accessing information. Don't feel pressured to take advantage of networking right away. Take it slow and enjoy the process. Many times a great friendship will come out of networking.
Networking is a tool that every freelancer should consider one of the most important tools to always have on hand. It is not something that happens once in a while, but an action that should be carried out every day, all day long. Job opportunities are out there, you just have to be open to receive them.