An attorney friend of mine, “Peg,” called me one day and said, you know everyone- just everyone. Peg goes on to tell me that she was taking a deposition in a North Carolina trailer park—when she started to speak to “Gary,” one of the few attorneys who was not participating by telephone. Next thing Peg knows Gary is asking her if she knows me. As Peg is telling me this story, I realize that somehow I have not spoken or seen Gary in years- so I reached out and we re-connected.
I can’t remember when people started telling me I was a great networker, but I do remember being struck by it and how it seemed wrong. I was not out there glad-handing at every conference or flinging around business cards as if I was a dealer at a blackjack table. Instead, over time, I built authentic relationships with people whose company I enjoyed and whose success and happiness mattered to me. I wanted to help people create the career and lives they wanted. And I think this is what most people get wrong about networking—it is not about you—but the other person and how you can add value to others.
The other thing is a network doesn’t just pop up quickly because you need something—it takes time and care to cultivate. Often, people hear that and shut down because they think they don’t have the time. You do have the time—reaching out to people does not have to take hours—it can be down in small, consistent bites. Also, don’t forget building connections is a commitment to other people and an investment in yourself.
Today, as we are living in a world—like known we have ever known—I am asked how can you possibly create and strengthen your network. Here are three tips:
Listen, listen, listen: When you reach out to your connections during this time, make sure that you care about what they are saying, ask questions, and follow up questions. Listen to their answers, their tone, and body language (yes, you can hear body language). Find out what is important to them and try to help them. If someone mentions a subject matter they are interested in (whether professional or persona) or the top of position- they may be interested in- I send them information and not just after the call—I keep my eye and ears out for some time.
Make New Thought Leader Connections: Speakers and panelists are discussing issues only in a virtual world. In a Webinar or Zoom panel, you see a sea of phone numbers and muted people. There is no reaction. No people are lining up to talk to you after the presentation. You get bupkis—no feedback. Break the cycle, reach out, and begin to build a relationship.
Step up to the Plate: Professional and volunteer associations—always are looking for members to develop programs and initiatives. During this time, the need is even more- as they are moving virtual, and some volunteers’ responsibilities have increased with homeschooling and child care. Leading a group or program is a terrific way to build your network and your brand. People not only get to know your name—they will know who you are as a person and worker.
Remember, whether connecting with someone in person or a virtual event—it is leaving the other person feeling good about the encounter and following up. Relationships don’t just happen—they take interaction. The contact does not have to be in person. It just needs to be authentic, consistent, and caring.
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