One of your most significant assets in business is your network. A network is not just your friends and family; it’s everyone you encounter through a friendship, work, or a shared interest. The broader, the better, as you want to surround yourself with people with different interests, locations, skills, and a mix of fan club treatment and tough love.
Growing a network is a crucial skill for entrepreneurs and business owners. Access to a network of people who can help you is one of those things that can make success easier to achieve. Whether meeting a future investor or getting a boost in a much-needed skill, your network will open doors and help you see things differently. No doubt that the better your network, the more opportunities you’ll have to grow your business and develop ideas.
So, what can you do to create a more robust network? First, to quote something my Grams said to me nearly every day of my childhood (I was not an easy kid):
“You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it.”
Networking isn’t always easy, especially if you are an introvert like me. I’ve had my fair share of dodgy moments when meeting someone new– or invites to events where I end up standing in the corner clutching a drink.
I avoid “happy hour” events or business socials unless they have some interactive component, like a speaker or an opportunity to share more about your business. Events with some structure at least give you some starter material to talk to strangers.
For networking socials, the traditional advice is to go prepared with your elevator speech or quick intro. But I find that an easier tactic is to also go equipped with some ice breakers like, “Oh, I see your business is X. What do you love about what you do?” Or ask people what they do for fun. These are a fun, no-pressure way to get the conversation started.
You can also wear your icebreaker to events.
Sometimes I wear a chair pin, and people ask me about it. It’s a great icebreaker and intro to the work I do on the side coaching emerging leaders.
A friendly smile takes you pretty far.
Just smile and say hi. Even if you are standing in the corner alone. It is such a simple thing, but a warm smile and eye contact make you instantly approachable!
Seek committee appointments for organizations and causes you care about.
In my early 30s, when I decided to make a better life for myself, I did not have access to a network of successful people. So, I sought board and committee appointments. Serving on a committee did two things for me: it expanded the people I knew, and participation gave me greater confidence in voicing my opinions.
This is a great way to be around other successful people. Coffee chats and “pick your brain” requests are tricky. I talk to many business leaders who absolutely love sharing their knowledge with people but are limited in their time. So, serving on a board or committee with them is a way to add value to your community or cause while you get to know the leaders you admire.
Check out the industry associations.
This is probably one of my favorite ways to meet new people—it’s primarily online, and you can do it from home! Make a list of the associations in your industry and look at their websites. So many of these associations are desperate for extra help with committee assignments and tasks. This is a great way to serve your industry while meeting new people.
Social media, minus the doom scroll.
I know people swear by Facebook groups and spaces like discord and clubhouse. But for me, it’s Twitter. To make it more useful, I follow topics. You can do this very quickly! In the menu, find the spot that says “topics.” Scroll through the list to find and follow your interests. It will pull the people talking about what you care about directly into your feed, even if you don’t follow them. You can have conversations with people talking about what matters to you most!
Put me in coach.
If all else fails, find a mentor, or hire a coach. A well-connected coach will stick you in a community, even if it is against your will. My business coach did this to me, and I love it! I’ve made friends and business connections all over the world.
Some final thoughts on networking
Every successful person I know is surrounded by people who believe in their mission and want to help them succeed. When you have a robust network of people that know and trust you, they will refer business, teach you new things, or introduce you to a new partner.
Networking has contributed so much to my success. It’s helped me with blind spots and skills. It’s also helped me be of more value to my clients by connecting them with resources and people.
If you find that your network isn’t what you would like, I encourage you to use some of these tips to build those bridges today.
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