My friends, family, and clients know me as a natural networker. I’m always reaching out and making connections on behalf of my clients, as well as for my own business. But networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and I know lots of people who want to run straight for the door when they even hear the word. It’s true that there’s a real stigma around some networking clichés, particularly the dreaded “Can I take you for coffee and pick your brain?” line. This turns the process into a chore for both parties, and successful networking doesn’t happen when either person feels burdened or uncomfortable. In networking, what you’re actually aiming for is a conversation that’s productive on both sides.
Here are my best tips for approaching network—both productively and painlessly:
1. Connect with family and friends first.
Family and friends love to hear about you and what’s new with your job or business. You never have to worry that you’re rambling to your mom or your best friend, and you may be surprised by who they know. Even if you don’t think your family or friends knows anyone who could help you, people shift jobs, cities, and even careers all the time. You might just know someone at your dream company after all. It’s also great to network with close friends of your family, even if you’ve only interacted with them at holiday parties and don’t feel you know them well enough. These people who have known you since you were little, and they more than likely want to help. Connecting with them can lead to future contacts in their fields, insight about new job openings, or even just some great advice (from someone who still can’t believe how old you are).
2. Attend events where everyone is there to meet other people.
If you feel uncomfortable with the idea of networking because you hate taking up someone’s time or talking about yourself, find events where the primary purpose is to meet other people. Knowing that everyone is there to mingle takes a lot of the awkwardness out of the equation. People at this type of event are generally friendly, outgoing, and armed with lots of good questions that will force you to talk about yourself and your latest projects. It’s less shuffling around the food table, more casual conversation. "Many people are often surprised how much they actually like networking, and it’s because of events like these, where connections arise naturally and time ends up flying by.
3) Position meetings or phone calls to benefit both parties.
When it comes to connecting one-on-one, many people get jitters because they’re worried about being a nuisance. It’s true that networking takes up valuable resources—an executive’s precious time, for instance. But don’t forget—it also takes up your own time, which is equally precious. Prepare for the meeting (which should be at a location convenient for them) by writing down smart questions and reading up on the company or organization and your contact’s work history and background. By being prepared on every level, you ensure an engaging conversation that feels enjoyable for both of you. “I adore hearing people’s stories and their passions,” says Lauren Chiarello Mika, Founder of Chi Chi Life “Some meetings are successful in the sense that you make this instant connection, and sometimes not. I let the conversation happen organically and see what develops.”
4) Connect with other people who like connecting
If you’re getting the sense that someone’s not into networking, don’t stress it—even if you’re desperate to make the connection. Some people like connecting and others just don’t. It’s not your fault, so move on from the interaction and set your sights elsewhere. For every person that doesn’t have the time or the inclination to reach out, there will be five others who are happy to lend an ear, word of advice, or help (in some capacity). Focus on the people who have shown genuine excitement about your purpose or projects. These are the people who you want on your team.