Networking is a part of life. It’s practically inescapable. And you’re never really finished, either. You don’t reach some magic number of contacts and then think, “Well, I’m done. I finally made my 7533rd connection.” Nope. It goes on. And on. And on.
Everyone has advice on how to do it, what not to do, and the “secret tips and tricks” for the uninitiated. Inc. has advice. So does CIO Magazine. Forbes? Of course. You can even discover the seven things to never say at a networking event (similar to George Carlin’s famous “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” routine...only less profanity, and more fancy suits involved).
But, networking is nerve-racking. Some of us are shy, introverted, and unable to make a great first impression in a room full of strangers. In fact, for many people, a networking event is their definition of hell.
However, there’s good news for the wallflowers among us. Networking is not just a “real life” activity anymore. There’s more than one way to skin that particular cat.
You can do it from home. In your ratty old t-shirt and ripped jeans. Or your pj’s. Your hair can be an absolute mess. Maybe you haven’t showered in eight days (editor’s note: not recommended). It doesn’t matter. Networking today can take place from the comfort of your own home. On the couch, in your favourite chair, stretched out on the floor, or even in bed. Whatever works for you.
So relax. Take a deep breath. And start networking the way you want to.
See Also: 10 Habits of Amazing Networkers
1. Plug In To LinkedIn
Social media is everywhere these days. It’s the number one online activity. Facebook has over one billion users. Twitter has somewhere in the vicinity of 400 million or so. Instagram has over 100 million active accounts.
And then there’s LinkedIn. As of the first quarter of 2015, the “Facebook for Professionals” has 364 million members. That puts it easily in the top five, if not top three. Companies use it for recruitment. Individuals use it for job hunting. Influencers use it to share their content.
And you can use it for networking. Join a group. Participate in a discussion or debate. Follow an influencer in your industry. List a new job or credential on your profile. Post your resume and experience if you’re actively seeking new employment. Reach out to the people you want to meet, all while sitting on the couch and listening to heavy metal (if that’s your thing). Make a connection. Send a message.
If you’re not yet on LinkedIn, get on it. There are both free and paid accounts, so there’s no excuse. Once you’ve created your profile (take your time and do it right...your profile continues to network on your behalf even while you’re sleeping), start exploring. You’ll be amazed how quickly your circle of connections can expand.
2. Connect on Social Media
While we’re on the subject, try a few other social media platforms, too. LinkedIn is your best bet from a professional viewpoint, but the other major players have a lot to offer.
Facebook (“like” people and companies in your industry), Twitter (“follow” the influencers and big brands), Google+, and Instagram are just a few to consider. Everyone has at least one profile somewhere. Find it. Follow it.
But the trick (if there is a “trick”) is that you have to do more than just follow, like, or accept. You have to participate. Engage. Comment on posts and tweets. Give your opinion. Big names have tens or hundreds of thousands of followers. Don’t just be a name on that list. Networking means making a real connection. Do something rather than nothing.
What’s the best thing to do?
3. Offer a Helping (Digital) Hand
Reach out and help someone. Here’s where we separate the pros from the greenhorns. After making a connection with someone you want to develop a professional relationship with, find an opportunity to help them in some small way. Yes, liking their latest post is a good start. You can favourite or retweet their new blog post.
But if you really want them to notice you, you’ve got to offer something. Post a link to an article that benefits them, with a brief personal message calling their attention to it. Ask for an opinion or clarification on something you read or heard. Direct them to a new blog or website or service that you think they may find interesting. Let them know about events or causes related to their business or industry. Help them without any thought of getting something back in return. Because if you do, you will. They’ll start to notice you more. The “good” ones will send a virtual thank you, and then you’ve established a deeper connection. Can you jump from that to asking for a job? No. It’s a marathon. Not a sprint.
Make connections. Then deepen and strengthen those connections. Take your time.
4. Write a Blog Post or Article
So far, we’ve talked about places and ways to virtually connect with people. And that is a good use of your “networking from home” time. But it’s only stage one.
No matter your industry or career, you’d probably benefit from publishing content online. Write a blog post or article, and publish it on your own blog (free accounts are available from Blogger or Wordpress, although it’s better to pay for an actual domain name and hosting). Write about your industry and chosen profession. Offer advice (again, the golden rule is to help others before yourself). Provide how-tos and tutorials. Make predictions about where the industry is going. Identify trends.
Publish, and then share the link back to that post. Submit it to sites like Reddit and StumbleUpon. Share the link on your social media accounts. A carefully crafted blog post or article helps to create authority, awareness, and recognition for you. It gets your name out there. Include a link at the bottom of your articles (in the author bio) that takes readers directly to your LinkedIn profile. People will visit, and they will reach out to you. You’ll connect with people that you might never have had the chance without the article bringing you to their attention.
Blog posts and articles. Do it. And while you’re thinking about that, consider creating a personal website (or hiring someone to create it for you). One with your own domain name. Craft it like an online resume and/or portfolio. Make it look professional and compelling, clearly explaining who you are, what you can do for someone, and how to get in touch with you. Then, always link to the “About” or “Contact” page when you submit articles to various forums. Bring them to you.
5. Go Back in Time
Technology and social media make it easy to reconnect, revisit, and reestablish old connections. We all have people - both personal and professional - that have fallen out of our lives for one reason or another. Sometimes, it’s wise to go looking for them again.
You might send an email to the last address you have for them. You might send a brief tweet or post short message on their wall. It doesn’t matter. It’s all the same result - you reconnect with people...and that’s networking.
Maybe an old colleague is the new HR manager at a company you’d love to work for. Or a former professor has a new start-up. Or a past supervisor was recently promoted. Or maybe you have no idea what they’re doing now. It doesn’t matter. Networking shouldn’t be about just meeting people you know can help you. It’s about meeting people. Period.
Reach out. Say hi. Do not, under any circumstances, ask for a job or interview in the initial contact. That’s self-serving. Instead, be genuine. Be more interested than interesting. Help them in some small way.
If the connection is sincere, and they have the opportunity to help you in some manner, they will.
6. Hand-Written Notes
It’s not all about technology and cyberspace. It might seem that way sometimes, but it’s not. Want to really stand out in a digital world? Send hand-written notes and follow-ups to people. You can write them at home, on the couch, with seasons 1-10 of Friends playing on Netflix in the background.
Someone do you a favour? Send them a thank-you note. Interview with a potential employer last week? Send them a brief follow-up note, thanking them for the opportunity. Meet a few individuals in real life at the monthly meetup? Send them a note.
Hand-written notes set you apart. Yes, an email is quicker and more convenient...but they probably receive dozens or hundreds of those each day. Send a written note, not too long, on good stationery with a good pen, and send it using good old-fashioned snail mail. If you don’t have their personal address, you can usually find the business address on its website. Label the envelope to them ℅ (care of) the company name. They will remember you. They will appreciate the effort.
And you will have forged a stronger, more meaningful connection.
That’s networking like the pros do it. And you’re at home eating peanut butter from the jar...not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Excellent networking does not have to take place in a bar, hotel, or conference room. It can happen anywhere. Make the effort, put in the time, and see for yourself.
Any other suggestions? How else could we utilize our time at home (or our debilitating shyness) to get ahead? Leave your thoughts in the comments below...