When we expanded our business into the Dallas/Fort Worth area, several people commented on how quickly we plugged into the local business community and asked what we did to make it happen. Here are three simple strategies that have worked for us and our clients.
1. Get clear.
Networking can be a full-time job if you let it. So before you dive in, clarify what you want to accomplish personally and professionally. Developing specific goals will help you focus on who and what matter most, make the best use of your time, and make networking less overwhelming.
Let's take the example of Susan, a leader who told me that she really needs to start networking but finds it draining and difficult. Given her busy schedule, she just doesn’t know how to make it happen. I asked her what she was trying to accomplish. Susan explained that she is ready to take on a bigger role at her company, but that she cannot travel extensively. She admitted that her ideal role may be difficult to get at her company, so she will need strong sponsors to make it happen.
In particular, there are two leaders who could strongly influence her career path. Susan needs to make sure that they know who she is and how she is adding value. As a backup plan, Susan needs to build her external network to identify opportunities outside her company. Because we clarified Susan’s goals first, she could quickly develop a list of people she needs to network with internally and externally.
2. Be consistent.
Most people focus on their networks when they need something. They typically view networking as optional vs. core to achieving their goals. If this sounds all too familiar, I would urge you to set aside time each week to strengthen your network. Remember that it doesn’t have to be time- consuming. Even 5-10 minutes per week can go a long way. For example, in less than five minutes, you can send a quick email about an event or article of interest, make an introduction to someone your contact would enjoy meeting, or ask for advice or input.
As you develop your strategies, think about what would be of service to the person with whom you are cultivating a relationship. Whatever your approach, communicate regularly so that you stay top of mind.
3. Show your stuff.
The best way for people to get to know you is by seeing you in action. Volunteer for something that showcases your strengths, fits with your passion, and helps you develop strong relationships with the right people. When you get involved, others will notice how you think and the value that you bring — as long as you follow through on your commitments. Otherwise, you risk damaging relationships instead of advancing them. Again, you don’t have to invest a lot of your time, but be clear about how much time you can give and carve out something manageable.
Because networking can feel overwhelming, start by developing one achievable goal. For example, you could carve out ten minutes this week to clarify what you want to achieve through networking. If you already know, invest those ten minutes instead to reach out to someone with whom you want a stronger relationship. Remember to look for opportunities within what is already on your calendar (e.g., meetings, calls, etc.), rather than adding more to-do’s to your list!