How to grow your network

by Rheanna Chou
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I’m very much an introvert. I don’t enjoy striking up conversations with strangers in the grocery store line and I wear earbuds at the gym — whether I’m listening to music or not. Trust me, I don’t naturally network!

But I can be bold when it comes to reaching out to people who I think can be valuable to my professional growth. That’s because I believe in the power of relationships when it comes to building my business.

I prefer to connect with people in person rather than online for a couple of reasons. Both can be effective, but I like to get to know the people I connect with and I find that to be more difficult over the internet. I also come across better in person than I do online. My writing style is curt and can be somewhat snarky. But in person, or on the phone, I sell.

But regardless of setting, where does one start? I promise you, there are other entrepreneurs out there who are just as eager to connect as you are, and they’re not hiding under rocks. In fact, you might be surprised at how close to home they are. Start here:

Leverage your existing network

One of the best things I have at my disposal is my network. I know a few people, and chances are if I don’t know them, I know someone who does. If you’re unfamiliar with the Six Degrees of Separation theory, it contends that every person is connected to every other person by six or fewer people. So, plausibly, you are only six connections away from the CEO of Microsoft or Amazon, or whoever it is you want to speak to. Think about that the next time you think you don’t know anyone.

Ask around on social media. I have found that the Twitter communities I’m engaged with are always really supportive of things like this — probably because the whole idea is to network. I also try to engage in #FF (#FollowFriday) every week because it’s always a good way to connect with new people with professional interests similar to mine. Case in point: This guest post was written by a Twitter connection I reached out to.

Reach out to past colleagues. Think about the people you already know. Past colleagues can be a rich source of future leads. So can college professors you had a good relationship with. Shoot those people a message on LinkedIn or text them if you have their number. Just say “Hi” and catch up. Chances are these people are still working in your industry. Keeping these lines open can keep you in that person’s mind when opportunities pop up.  

Meet new people

If you still don’t think you know the right people (or you just like meeting new people), there are plenty of opportunities. Try these:

Attend networking events. If you live in a large metropolitan area, there are events or mixers you can attend where all people do is network. Google it. You’ll be surprised how many groups exist.

Another really good way to connect with people is to attend an event at your alma mater. For example, the university I graduated from just had homecoming weekend, which is a huge alumni event. Attending something like this is a ripe opportunity for networking. You already have something in common with every other person attending: You attended the same university. And you never know where you’re classmates’ careers have taken them.

Attend a conference. Conferences have the added benefit of being educational. And when you’re not soaking up the wisdom of proven leaders in your industry, you can be introducing yourself to the people around you.

If you’re really feeling bold, attend a conference outside of your niche. If you’re an editor, attend a writer’s conference or vice versa. Not only will you gain valuable insights into another side of your industry, but you can introduce yourself to people who might need you.

Just remember when you’re reaching out to people to be a human being, not a lead generating robot. Make an effort to genuinely connect with people and cultivate meaningful relationships. It also helps to have a how-can-I-help-you attitude. People respond to people who want to help them.

Generate word-of-mouth

My husband is a word-of-mouth magnet. He seems to hand out his business card to all the right people and his name seems to pop up in all the right peoples’ mouths.

His secret: Just kidding — I don’t know. But I’m thinking it’s a numbers game. Talk to 100 people, do business with two or three. I think he just has a knack for sifting through the dozens of people he meets everyday and finding the ones who are worth pursuing.

While WOM is notoriously the hardest form of marketing to use well, if it happens for you, it can spark something big. This is because people trust people they know. So make sure your encounters with people are positive, you never know who that person you just chatted up over coffee could recommend you to.

Create content

For yourself. Think about it — what’s the first thing you do when a friend tells you about a person they know who is doing something cool? You Google them. If they have a website, you look at it. If they have an Instagram, you scroll through that.

Make sure there is something to Google. Many people create a blog because it gives them a platform to share content. Others maintain profiles on sites that offer platforms for their professional portfolios. The goal here is visibility. People can’t, and won’t, connect with you if they can’t find you.

Pro tip: If you haven’t Googled yourself recently, do it and see what pops up.

For others. This opens up your network a little more. Successful jobs may get you referrals to other businesses. Chances are that small business owner you created a website for knows another small business owner who may need help. And they probably also know a small business owner and so on
(Six Degrees at work again).

It’s also far more impressive to the people you’re trying to connect with that other people have hired you and you haven’t just been creating content for yourself and throwing it out into the void.

One last thing

Networking can be a rewarding part of your professional life. It can even be fun. Just remember, the goal here is ultimately quality of connections, not quantity.

Focus your efforts on those people who can be most influential in your business growth and build relationships that go both ways. Don’t focus only on what that person might be able to do for you — think about what it is you can do for them.

And be bold. No one is too important for you to reach out to.

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