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10 Effective Strategies That Will Improve Your Networking Skills

I’ve known Grayson Bell from Debt Roundup since the early days of this site. We first connected by sharing thoughts in the comments section of our posts. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to meet him last year at FinCon and have him help me with some technical issues on my site.

Because I had networked a bit and had this connection I was aware he would be publishing a special post in December. Each year he reaches out to personal finance bloggers and has them submit a money related tip that he can share with his readers.

I was happy to submit my tip and it got placed into “The 54 Best Personal Finance Tips of 2014” post he published on December 30th.

A few weeks later I received a curious tweet from someone I had never met. She was an editor of a new website and was looking for freelance writers. “Would I be interested?” she asked.

Of course, I had a lot of questions. In one email I asked her this, “How did you find out about me?” Naturally I was curious. Her reply proved to me again the power of networking skills.

She had read the personal finance tip I had submitted for Grayson’s post. Pretty cool!

You just never know where networking might take you.

The Biggest Obstacle to Networking

networking skillsNetworking skills can take you places you might otherwise not reach.

Your biggest obstacle will be to believe that fact.

Our tendency is to handle things ourselves. We believe that through sheer hard work and our own personal determination we can get to wherever we want to go. “Who needs others?” we think. “I can do it by myself.”

I very much fall into that camp. It’s been an issue I’ve been slowly trying to rid myself of. I’m realizing more and more there is great value in who it is you know.

The example I shared about finding my first freelancing job is a great case study in networking skills. The progression of how I came to land that job went like this:

  1. I made a conscious choice in 2012 to reach and comment on Grayson’s blog.
  1. We maintained a casual connection, continuing to comment off and on for several years.
  1. We extended the relationship by being introduced to each other by a mutual friend at FinCon last fall.
  1. After having met him, I felt comfortable enough to ask him for help when I had a need.
  1. In turn, I counted it a privilege to help him put together a spectacular post when he had the need.
  1. His post that was probably read by thousands attracted the eye of one person who reached out to me.

Did you notice how that progressed and the networking paid off?

What started out as something really simple (basic commenting) led to something big (a reciprocal relationship) which then led to something bigger (paid work for me).

Now here’s the thing…I didn’t know two years ago at step #1 above that it would lead to anything. I didn’t know moment #4 would come and moment #6 of becoming a freelance writer was nowhere in my sight. At the most I thought I’d make a cool connection with another personal finance blogger.

Therein lies the powerful nature of your networking skills. Had I not reached out at step #1, the opportunity at #6 would never have come.

Networking Skills Anyone Can Learn

Networking can be an intimidating proposition. At first, our mind gets wrapped up in a lot of questions that keep us from moving forward.

Who do you reach out to?

Will they respond?

What if I don’t have an outgoing personality?

What if I’m rejected?

What skills or value can I offer?

All those are legitimate questions to ask. But we don’t need to let them block us. Here are 10 practical networking skills that will help you get started.

1. Know your value.

I know…you were looking for a quick-hitting, easy #1 strategy. Sorry to disappoint. You’ll have to think a bit first.

Knowing your value is about understanding you. What do you bring to the table? What is it you have to offer? What do you value?

Everyone has something to share. It may not be something unique or that stands entirely out from the crowd. The great thing about networking is that it doesn’t have to necessarily stand out. You are just looking for a place to connect and fit in.

2. Start small

After thinking through step #1, then find a niche that you are comfortable with and connect their first. These will be like-minded people that share the same interests as you, value the same things as you and are seeking some of the same outcomes as you. In this group of people you will immediately build connections – even if they are small ones – because you are just like them.

Where could that be? I don’t know because it’s all based on your own self-interests.

3. Engage and practice to gain confidence

I often find that people who pooh-pooh networking haven’t tried. Or maybe they tried once or twice, nothing immediately came of it, and they gave up.

Or they didn’t feel like their networking skills were any good. You know…freeze in the middle of a conversation and don’t know what to say. I’ve been there many times.

Networking will only pay off if you continue to engage. And the engaging will become more natural if you practice.

Practice could take several forms. Maybe it involves coming up with 3-6 talking points about yourself to routinely bring up in situations where you meet new people. Perhaps it’s visualizing being in a specific situation. It might even mean standing in front of a mirror improving your smile or rehearsing your lines.

I’d say this step is especially critical for those like me who are introverts. Generally speaking, we have a more difficult time reaching out, being in social situations and thinking quickly on our feet.

4. Stop feeling sheepish and apologizing

This is a real issue anytime but especially when we are “networking up.” What I mean by that is when we are trying to make a connection with someone outside our comfort zone or with someone viewed as above us in status.

We somehow feel guilty about taking other people’s time. Our emails and conversations always start with phrases like “Sorry but…” or “I apologize for taking up your time but…” or “I know your busy but…”

Every time we do that we start from a position of weakness – thinking the contact wants nothing to do with us.

If you feel bad about initially reaching out to people you will not be effective with networking. In fact, you will probably stop doing it to avoid the bad feeling.

My experience shows that most people like to make a connection. They don’t mind the time it takes to have a short conversation because it expands their network as well.

5. Be true to you

When networking always be true to yourself. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Never be a phony.

People will see through this. If that doesn’t happen right away it will come out eventually. You can’t keep being someone you are not indefinitely.

Now that doesn’t mean you don’t have to make a good impression or be civil. Learning how to make a good first impression is a big deal and people will immediately run away if you are unkind or rude.

6. Practice generosity

This may be one of the best networking skills to expand your reach. Be generous with people without expecting anything in return.

When I sent that tip to Grayson I wasn’t expecting anything to come from it. I just wanted to be part of and help him create a memorable post. I really didn’t think about what would be in it for me.

Too often though people go into networking with that in mind. They are only thinking about what’s in it for them. Consequently all the interaction and dialogue is steered back to their needs.

Ever talk with someone where it was pretty much a monologue focused on his or her issues? How did you feel about them once that conversation was over? I’d guess not too thrilled about moving forward with that connection.

It’s no secret people network to advance their position. Just don’t make it obvious. Be quiet. Listen. Ask engaging questions. Find out what you can do for others first.

7. Treat everyone equally

When networking don’t dismiss anyone. From the top executive in charge of the company to the janitor who cleans the offices, treat each contact as if they are the most important contact in the world. You simply never know…the executive about to offer you that job will most likely be asking others about you.

If you treat them differently than you treated him, word will surely circle its way around.

In addition treat them as equal to yourself. You are no better than they are. There is no reason to look down on or be condescending to other people.

8. Anticipate the future

As you connect with people be thinking how you might need them in the future. Also think about how you might be able to help them in the future. Listen and take mental notes of personality similarities, possible joint ventures, common interests and parallel goals. Come back around to these in the future when the timing is right.

In addition, be anticipating where you might be headed in the future and how your own goals may change. What I haven’t shared about my freelancing connection is that I had already been thinking about freelancing for a couple of months. And literally two days before I was contacted I made this statement to my wife, “I just want to write for my blog and freelance for others.”

It was already in my mind to move in that direction. When the opportunity came I jumped on it.

9. Diversify your connections

Networking with like-minded people is fine initially. In doing that you can build your networking skills by practicing where you are comfortable.

At some point though you will want to reach outside of your comfort zone and connect with people who have different interests, personalities, and goals.

Why? Because…

It expands your knowledge of different kinds of people.

You learn about different professions.

It stretches you to become more as you push through uncomfortable networking barriers.

You will broaden your own audience.

It will give you even more people with specific skills and knowledge to call on when in need.

10. Follow up and stay engaged

Always follow up with people and thank them for their time. It’s a common courtesy and will be appreciated by the recipient.

Afterwards, if the relationship is to continue in any form or fashion, you will have stay engaged. For me, that means continuing to reach out to my fellow bloggers with comments at their site, emails, joint ventures, helping with their special projects or personal mentions like I did in this post.

It’s time consuming to follow-up. It takes effort to stay engaged with our contacts. It will come at the cost of other things. But effective networking is going to require some continued massaging.

Be Patient…Networking Will Pay Off

The worst things you could possibly do when building out your network is to get antsy and begin asking for stuff right away.

Building out your spider-web network is going to take some time. You might not see any noticeable returns for awhile.

Be patient with the process. Your networking will eventually pay off if you just stick with it.

Questions: Do you believe networking is worth it? Are you confident in your networking skills? Have you tried to network before and failed? Why do you think you failed? What has transpired in your life that was greatly the result of networking? What other advice can you share to those wanting to become better at networking?

Image courtesy of Thompson Rivers Univ. at Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. Great post Brian! I wrote a detailed post on networking for introverts on my site. I’ve never been a people person, so networking has been especially tough for me. But I’ve learned tricks along the way to make the experience better.

    I know for sure that I wouldn’t be where I am at today without networking. So many times it is the one-off conversation or meeting that leads to something more. Without that, you wouldn’t have the opportunity.

    Here is a link to my post if you are interested in reading it: http://www.breathofoptimism.com/networking-for-introverts-complete-guide/

  2. I think starting small is great advice. If you go out trying to meet everyone and do everything you’ll likely get burned out or start mixing people up and embarrassing yourself. You also need to make it a regular habit. I sometimes get so bogged down with work that I forget to take time to reach out or check in with others.

    • It is real easy to get bogged down in our own tasks. Plus it’s intimidating to start big. Ever walk into a room filled with 200 people. Kind of tough to know where to start.

  3. I have been in sales for my 15 year career and I attribute my key to success in networking and relationship building. I always joked to my hubby that I had a 2 year sell cycle, because while most of my peers would close new business in a few weeks or months, I would take a year or two to build relationships. I never closed business immediately, but I always closed more business percentage wise over time because of the relationships I formed. Networking doesn’t have to be anything formal, it really is just the process of building and cultivating relationships.

  4. Networking has been been cornerstone to my growth professionally in community and on my blog. It definitely takes some time, but it’s a worthy investment because I had made both great friends and allies. Congrats on your first freelance writing gig! I have no doubt more will come from it too! 🙂

    • ” have no doubt more will come from it too!” I hope so. Going to take me a bit though to adjust to writing for myself and someone else. But so far after a month I really like the challenge of writing for another site.

  5. Networking landed me almost every single job I’ve ever had (even wrote a post with that exact title). I think it’s important to realize you never know who knows who. You shouldn’t discount anyone as having the potential to help you out in the future. Not that you should only network to “gain” from others, but you will be surprised who can introduce you to who.

  6. Thank you so much for the shout out Brian! I will say that networking is the cornerstone of my blog and my business. It wouldn’t be where it is today without reaching out to others. The same goes for my blog management business. It would be nearly as successful today if I hadn’t networked. It’s 100% built on word-of-mouth advertising!

  7. Great story Brian! That said, I definitely can tend to fall into the camp of thinking I can do it all myself or that my hard work will get me where I want – but that will only take you so far. However, you start to learn something about yourself as you get older…you don’t know everything. 🙂 We look back at successes in our business and virtually every single one came from networking. I love your addition of #6 & #7 – you should give generously for a variety of reasons. I know it may seem backward to some, but is a must in my opinion because you never know how it’ll help the person in need.

    • I’m almost done reading Chris Ducker’s book Virtual Freedom. It’s a real eye-opener into not being able to do everything on your own. That’s one of the reasons I started freelancing – to bring in more money so that I could hire help for some of my blogging tasks. I’m definitely headed in that direction.

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