A crucial theme for all Edge members in 2020 is going to be to deepen your network of influencers, not through ads or blog posts or Pinterest…but through good old fashioned networking skills. Here are five tips you can use to get in the right mindset right at the start of the year. (Borrowed from an article in Forbes, tailored for you by yours truly.)
Tip #1 – Deepen existing relationships
Growing your professional network doesn’t just mean quantity – quality can be just as important (if not more). Instead of focusing only on doubling your number of contacts, also consider how you can deepen the connections you already have. Don’t wait until you need something to reach out to an important connection you’ve recently made. I’ve seen firms quadruple in size in a very short period of time based on a crucial relationship with just one influencer such as an architect.
Reach out to a colleague or new connection when you don’t need anything. Better yet, reach out when you have something to offer them instead of something to ask of them.
Tip #2 – Develop a monthly networking lunch schedule to broaden your network
Without a doubt, the best time to build a relationship with a key influencer or subject matter expert is before you need it. The sad reality is more often we wait until there’s a crisis and then desperately try to find someone who knows the person we want to influence and that can yield less than optimal results. Trying to build a relationship amidst a crisis is rarely a recipe for success.
Instead, develop a monthly schedule of relationship building lunches or coffees. It may not sound sexy, but a year from now, you’ll be so glad you did it. It’s super simple.
1. Document a list of six people who you would like to build a better relationship with this year. (Think about potential influencers, influential past clients, subject matter experts in areas where you’re weak, colleagues in other areas of the business, etc.)
2. Carve out one day a month for your networking lunch/coffee. If there’s a particular time of the month or day of the week that’s typically slower, consider that when selecting the date (to avoid potential conflicts). Email each contact on your list to schedule the lunch/coffee.
3. Try to meet out of the office to encourage a more relaxed atmosphere.
4. Do your homework as advised above in Tip #1. Remember basic networking tips like making sure you’re offering value during the conversation, asking them about their interests and accomplishments and using good eye contact.
5. Follow up within a few days to thank them for the meeting and offer a resource or contact relevant to your conversation. Suggest having another lunch/coffee within three months (assuming you want to continue to cultivate the relationship) and get it scheduled!
Tip #3 – Get more active on LinkedIn
Hands down LinkedIn is one of the most important social media platforms for business professionals, and if you’re not active, you’re most likely missing opportunities to be connected to people who could help you (or whom you could help) this year, next year, or ten years from now. No, you don’t need to post multiple times a day or randomly comment on as many posts as possible. Remember that growing your network by just 5% with quality connections is likely more beneficial than expanding it by 40% with random connections.
Get active in becoming a thought leader on your own if that sounds fun to you, but more important is simply to do your “due diligence” about the people you want to reach (did you go to the same college?) and if you can’t find common bonds, to search for people you know who do share common bonds with your target.
Tip #4 – Learn something new
Part of the reason why our networks stagnate is that it’s so natural to focus almost exclusively within our specific area of expertise. While it’s obviously important to focus on your functional area, you may be limiting yourself unwittingly by failing to explore other areas as well. It’s important to step outside your comfort zone not just to broaden your own skill set but also to expand your professional network. By dipping your toe in the water of other professional disciplines, you’re opening doors to entirely new sets of contacts and relationships. For example, you might attend a conference that is not in your area of expertise. Indeed, training events and conferences in new functional areas introduce completely new networking opportunities which could provide fertile ground for valuable new connections.
If you’re in high-end residential design, anyone who is offering services, education, or entertainment to high net worth individuals could be worth checking out. Forget that you’re an interior designer for a day, and go to the seminar on luxury travel, or attend a high-performance driving school, or go to a wealth management event… Get the idea?
Tip #5 – Volunteer with professional organization conferences or serve on boards
Volunteering for professional organizations/conferences or serving on boards is another way to grow your network organically. Select board participation based on your career field or choose affiliation based on a cause that you’re passionate about. This is a great strategy because it provides regular networking opportunities and also boosts your resume at the same time! Certainly, be strategic and realistic with your volunteering choices. If time commitment is a concern, don’t run for president of the organization, but instead volunteer to help coordinate the annual conference. Volunteering for a conference is a triple win as it offers a volunteer experience with broad networking opportunities, limits the time commitment and typically provides a free pass to a great event.
Remember that your network won’t dramatically change if you don’t take steps to make that happen. This week carve out some time to think about how you want your professional network to be quantitatively and qualitatively different this time next year, then take specific steps to make that happen. This just might be the most important investment you make in your career this year.