As an Introvert, this is something I try to work on every day.
Every interaction you have, with everyone from your shoe shiner to your car mechanic, is an opportunity to network professionally.
But how do you most effectively represent and market your company or personal brand without seeming opportunistic, inappropriate, or intrusive?
Here are some quick tips to help you make connections, expand your social network, and nurture professional relationships.
Extroverted people seem to have it so easy, making friends with everyone from their UPS delivery person to other dog owners in the park! But these interactions don’t rely on actually connecting deeply with everyone; instead, making successful connections can be as easy as noticing and remembering things about the people you see frequently. Taking the time to notice and acknowledge the people you routinely interact with can help you extend your social network slowly but significantly. For example, remembering your law office’s UPS carrier’s name and inquiring about her baby can help your brief interactions be social connections as well as routine service calls. Carrying an extra biscuit to the dog park can help you win over a friendly pup (and his owner). When your UPS carrier needs to write a will or your park friend gets a speeding ticket, you might be the first lawyer to pop into their minds.
Be aware of what people do and what they need, and make people aware of what you do and the needs you fulfill—without trying to sell them anything. As the old axiom goes, “people like to work with people they like.” Most everyone participates in social groups outside of work, which can be fertile ground for potential professional connections. Use your social media profiles to post links to interesting articles about your profession; share amusing anecdotes about your job during long runs with your training group; or volunteer at the food bank wearing your company t-shirt. If you’re an event planner, for example, the more people in your social network who know what you do, like you, and think you are trustworthy, the more likely it is that one of them will call you when they need to plan a wedding or corporate event. Expanding your social network multiplies your chances to use your social connections for professional advancement (without being a pest).
Most people can tell when they’re being “schmoozed” or manipulated, and few respond well. If you’re not a social butterfly, but you’re at an event that calls for some social interaction, try being honest about your discomfort: “I never know what to say at these things! Small talk just isn’t my strong point—I’m more of a numbers and details kind of person. Hi, I’m Jeremy, by the way.” Especially in situations where you feel vulnerable or exposed—literally or figuratively—being open about your insecurity can earn you respect. In my experience, there are a lot of other people that have the exact same feelings and they will welcome this type of approach.
Another great way to gain and strengthen connections, especially if you’re not great at chit-chat, is to ask open-ended questions and genuinely listen to the responses. Most people like to talk about themselves, their passions, their kids, etc., so ask them, pay attention to their answers, and remember them (see tip #1). If you don’t feel comfortable chatting with your hair stylist, ask him how he got into styling, what his dream job is, what his favorite movie or pop culture hair inspiration is, etc. and just let him talk. You’ll be surprised how close this can make people feel to you without you having to share anything.
Don’t Force It.
I was recently on a plane sitting next to a woman who was frightened to fly. We chatted a bit as the plane ascended about the safety and physics of flight and the beautiful scenery we expected to see along the way. When we reached altitude, she settled in to enjoy the view, and I whipped out my laptop to work on a blog for a custom homebuilder. When she turned back to me to point out the DC Skyline, she noticed my work in progress; as it turned out, she was a Realtor. After talking briefly about the current state of the real estate market in her location and my background in Real Estate and how I started my company to specialize in IDX Broker integrations for custom real estate websites, we exchanged cards and returned to our respective activities.
Nothing about this encounter felt for either of us like we were trying to “sell” the other on our product/brand; rather, exchanging professional information was an organic part of an ongoing interaction at a time that was appropriate. Learn to take advantage of openings when appropriate, but don’t force them. Afterward, make sure you follow up with a note or email. If you become friends on social media, make sure to engage further than just the initial add. Use calendar reminders to encourage you to remember to follow up, even with social contacts. (Yes, I admit, I have to do this or I often forget.)
The long-term secret to networking is developing a strong social network. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever to connect with and keep in touch with contacts located all over the world. Engaging an experienced marketing company can help you make your website and social media platforms look professional and welcoming. Once you learn how to use them to enhance your in-person social networking efforts, you can more easily leverage your social connections into professional gains—without alienating your friends.
You may also want to check out our post about Why You Still Need A Business Card.