Networking may seem like a daunting task – introducing yourself to people you don’t know, asking strangers for help – but your personal and professional network may be a lot wider than you think. All the moms in your child’s playgroup, your husband’s golfing buddies, your mother’s book club pals, and dad’s business associates are all part of your extended network. Don’t be afraid to ask these people for business assistance or advice. Here are five tips to help you grow, cultivate and take advantage of your network:
Tip #1: Join LinkedIn and Use It
If you don’t already have a LinkedIn account, open one today. This free service is similar to Facebook but your “friends” on LinkedIn won’t update you on their pet’s latest tricks. They will however update you on where they are working and you can see who is in their network. You may see a familiar face or name that you can connect with – it’s okay to ask school friends as well as former colleagues to be in your network – or ask someone you’re already connected to, to introduce you to someone you’d like to connect with and your network is sure to grow.
Tip #2: Get a Well-Designed Business Card
Yes, Vista Print may be free, but do you really want their logo on your card? Probably not. If your business has a website ask the site’s designer to create a business card for you that matches your branding. Or if you’re still negotiating your website’s design contract add business cards into the deal. Today a lot of what we do is digital – email or text instead of picking up the phone for example – but at a networking event, social gathering or just a run in with someone on the street, you’ll want to be able to pass them your information fast, and that would be by handing them your business card. Also, their reaction will most likely be to pass you their card, which is what you really want…their information.
Tip #3: Attend Business and Social-Related Meetups
The best place to meet like-minded individuals or owners of complementary businesses is to mingle with them at local networking events or larger conferences. Some of these outings may be business-specific, while others may be more social, regardless business can get done at both. Do your research, and ask colleagues what networking groups and events they attend, and decide which one would be best for you to learn something new or to meet new people.
Tip #4: Invite Interesting People Out for an Informational Interview
Just because you’re no longer in college doesn’t mean you can’t invite someone interesting out for an informational interview. An informational interview gives you an opportunity to learn more about an industry, company or someone’s career, gaining insight that can help you grow your business and/or career. The great thing about an informational interview is that you can have it over coffee, by the way you’re paying, and the person you’re interviewing knows that you aren’t expecting a job offer at the end of the conversation. Not sure where to start? Research companies you’re interested in or ask friends and colleagues to connect you with someone you’d like to learn more about. Most people will be flattered that you want to hear their story, and gladly accept your offer.
Tip #5: Follow Up
After you’ve connected with someone on LinkedIn, or picked up their business card, or met them at a conference or meet-up, or interviewed them about their career, it’s important that you follow up. Write a handwritten thank-you note if they took time to meet with you. Or shoot them an email reminding them of how you met and how you may be able to work together, especially if you already discussed that idea. The most important thing is to stay in touch with the contacts you meet so that if you think you can use their services, or they can use yours, you already started a relationship with them.