A lot of us don’t like networking, but we should do it anyway. Unless you’re a natural extrovert, networking can feel forced, artificial, and awkward. While we often associate networking with job seeking, it’s a crucial skill even if you’re not looking for a job change or advancement. Your ability to establish and maintain a strong and diverse network of professional contacts increases your opportunities to innovate and solve problems where you are.
As the end of the year approaches, you’ll find yourself attending events for the holidays. It’s a good time to remember the value of building your networking skills by thinking about what you stand to gain and what you have to offer others.
Whatever your level of expertise in your field, you don’t know everything about everything. When you need an expert, a wide-ranging network is your best asset. As Richard Branson once wrote, “When you’re conducting business in a field where you don’t have specialist expertise, it’s often the only way to get a job done right.”
Maybe you need a new accountant. Maybe you need an expert witness. Maybe you need someone who knows a lot about medical records. (See what we did there?) Maybe you just need a good plumber. When you need a task or knowledge that falls outside your wheelhouse, there are few phrases more comforting than this one: “I know a guy….”
Sometimes you don’t know a guy—or know someone who knows a guy. Sometimes you ARE “the guy.” Your network provides you with the most valuable kind of marketing money can’t buy, word-of-mouth. Your wide-ranging network means all those people you know can recommend you and your services to the people they know when they’re seeking an expert. As an added bonus, research shows when you approach networking with thoughts of what you have to offer, the whole process feels more comfortable and productive.
Get Inspiration and Ideas
Networking is easiest if you know you already have common ground with the people around you. That’s why conferences exist. Starting with the common ground of work can make breaking the ice feel more organic. Plus, if you’re talking to other people in your field, you’re in a great position to share ideas, solve problems, and find new ways to think about your market. You can walk away from a casual conversation with new ideas and approaches to your own firm’s challenges.
Your friends and your professional contacts don’t need to be kept in discrete boxes in your life. It’s not easy to make new friendships once you leave the sandbox—or the college dorm. A lot of us feel cautious about having too-friendly relationships in our daily workplace, but the people you meet at events don’t carry the weight of office politics. Talking about your interests is a good way to keep networking genuine and fun for yourself, but it’s also a way to meet people who share those interests. Keep an open mind about that holiday party, and you might find your new best friend.
Building and maintaining your network takes effort, but the payoffs are well worth the time you put in. Next week we’ll explore some unconventional strategies to move beyond standard meet-and-greet networking and help you forge deeper connections. In the meantime, you can always add the folks at The Records Company to your network and make use of our expertise anytime.