Networking is something I have been spending considerable time on in the last year. It was something that a year ago I felt like I was very bad at but saw the value in being good at it.
One thing that I have clarified in the last year is that Networking is not a thing. I think people imagine trading business cards at a Networking event, or delivering elevator pitches to strangers over drinks. Doing this I don’t think has a lot of value. This is an expectation of getting, not giving.
When I think of networking I am thinking about keeping in touch with the people I know, and when I meet new people, keeping in touch with them too. When I said I was bad at networking, I mean I was only proactively staying in touch with ten people and not remembering much about our previous conversations.
First, I made the decision to define my network as anyone who I would want to get a drink with or ask a favor of. Since I was starting with so few people, I decided to include everyone in that list from my parents to co-workers to childhood friends. By including everyone it made it simpler than thinking about my professional and personal networks separately.
I also decided that as I did things I am interested in, that I would meet people and stay in touch with them too. This includes everyone from extended family, to clients at work, to friends of friends at parties. I am much more likely now to email someone who is doing something interesting, follow up after a webinar, or pick up the phone and talk to a classmate.
The two things I needed my system to do was to remind me to reach out to people and keep track of what we talked about. I used a spreadsheet at first then switched to Uphabit. I went through my contacts and LinkedIn and found 50 people I knew I wanted to keep in touch with. Over the last year I have added until I am now at 130 and growing. As I went, I thought about who I was in touch with and if there were interests or areas of my life that I wanted more conversations in. I also thought about diversity in my network: age, professional seniority, gender, race, location, lifestyle, etc.
At first it felt awkward especially since it was new for me and because these people weren’t used to hearing from me. But I kept trying things and worked on it a little bit each day. It didn’t take long to see what worked and who was friendly and interested in keeping in touch.
I am starting to be more generous when keeping in touch with people. It is important to update my network on what I am working on and have accomplished. It is also very satisfying to start making connections between people and helping people achieve their goals by introducing them to people I know. I also continue to look further afield to people who I don’t know previously but seem interesting and would be good to know.