This post first appeared on the SLA Future Ready 365 blog.
This blog's included some great discussions about networking and how it's essential to being future-ready. Mention the word 'networking,' though, and it often conjures up images of hanging out with strangers, wearing a nametag, and making small talk. You leave exhausted, with a stack of business cards to show for your efforts. For weeks, the cards sit on your desk, nagging you to follow up with everyone you met – until you toss them in the trash.
It's enough to make you retreat, not charge ahead into the future! If we really must network our way into the future, then why not replace those awful images with something better?
This time, picture yourself meeting with like-minded people who work in your company or industry, share hobbies, or have similar views and beliefs. Over lunch or coffee, you make new acquaintances and catch up with long-term connections. The next day, you follow up with one contact that needs a good speaker for an upcoming workshop and send a useful article to another.
Every few months, you stay in touch with these connections – over coffee, via email, or at other events. They introduce you to new connections, and you do the same for them. Someday, someone in this group will need a favor. It could be big or small, work-related or personal. Because you have a history of mutual respect and sharing, you do what you can to help or connect them with those who can.
These two scenarios spotlight the differences between 'networking' and 'building a network.' Building a network is much more gratifying and worthwhile. Rather than talking about ourselves and seeing who can collect the most business cards, the focus is on listening, creating and fostering relationships, and sharing.
But building a network doesn't happen overnight or after one event. It's an ongoing process, and a good network takes years to develop. While email and social media facilitate connections, it takes face-to-face time to develop true, lasting relationships. There are no shortcuts, and the time to make your connections is long before you need a new job, new employee, or someone to restore your hard drive after a late-night crash.
Still would rather hide in your office or at home watching a marathon of NCIS reruns? Here are a few quick tips for getting motivated:
- Learn from the experts. Building a networking takes work, and it helps to know what you're doing. For example, I always learn lots of great tips from Harvey Mackay's podcasts, and just listening to his enthusiasm makes me actually want to get out and meet new people.
- Start small. Rather than a 300-person networking extravaganza, attend company lunch-and-learns, volunteer for committee work, or opt for events where you know some of the attendees. You can slowly build your networking muscles.
- Set goals. Before you head out the door, decide what you want to accomplish, and give yourself permission to go home once you've reached your goals. I usually attend events with two goals in mind: 1) make plans to follow up and have coffee with one good contact and 2) help one contact with a referral.
Try out a new attitude. Replace the old images with some new ones, and start building your network now – for the future.