Posted by: Alisha Sedor, Founder
I get a lot of questions about how best to network, or hear people express that networking is intimidating or makes them nervous. While there are definitely days when I would rather be in sweats binge-watching "The Good Place" than at a networking event, I've amassed some tools, tips, and philosophies that make networking much more enjoyable.
First, the philosophy.
For most people, networking is intimidating or stress inducing because they're thinking about a bunch of people in business suits passing out business cards asking each other for favors. From my perspective, this is not what networking is about. Networking is about building a network, which at its core, is about building relationships. You don't need a special space to do that.
You can network anywhere, and in fact, I recommended networking at events for interests of yours and hosted by organizations/causes you enjoy. Into startups? Hit up something by DigitalNYC (or your local equivalent). Pumped about the environment? See what your local Sierra Club is doing. Love baseball? Find a Meetup group for your favorite team and head to watch a game. Bleeding heart? Join a nonprofit board or sign up as a member. Are books your jam? Reach out to a few book clubs that are outside of your usual circles.
Interesting, well connected people are everywhere, and you can meet them in spaces that are comfortable for you, which also immediately gives you something to talk about. Once you're there, focus on creating a real connection with people: listen and ask questions, be genuinely curious. Approach the room as though everyone is both a human being who is awesome and interesting and a potentially beneficial addition to your network, because both of these things are true.
Next, the tools.
First and foremost, business cards actually are essential. Unless you have a photographic memory, names and contact info need to get passed along somehow. Design your own, or Moo.com has some really nice, unique templates that will help you stand out. If you want to go fully digital, the app Ping is an easy way to capture contact info and connect on the go.
LinkedIn is also a great way to tap people just outside of your direct network while you're on the job search or working on a new venture. Additionally, if networking in person gives you hives, you can connect via LinkedIn with folks you find interesting to get the conversation started, and follow-up with a call or meeting at a later date. I recommend making sure your information is up to date, clean, and really highlights who you are and what you do. Use that summary section to stand out! Check out these tips to make it awesome.
To keep my networks organized, I use Google Calendar to book all of my meetings and I have my Harry's, Poros, personal calendar, and Google Tasks visible in one window. My personal account's GCal is shared with with my work calendar and I granted edit permissions. This means I can manage all of my calendars from the same place. I send invitations to meetings this way, get reminders of upcoming networking calls/meetings/events and can ensure that I have easy access to the contact info of my networking connections.
If you're doing a lot of networking, and especially if you're making contacts to identify career or client prospects, I also recommend creating a spreadsheet to track your contacts. I utilize a Google Sheet so that I can access my contact list from anywhere. In it, I note the contact's name, where I met them, when we were last in touch, and a couple of notes about them if that's helpful. That way, I can give myself a refresher on who someone is, make sure I'm not following up so frequently that it's annoying, and avoid the mortifying "where did I meet this person???" moment.
Finally, the where.
The first place you should be networking is within your current employer and former employers. Even if you're looking to move into a new role, having great relationships here will gives you access to your colleagues's connections. Next, as I mentioned at the top, you don't have to go to "networking events" to network. Find groups for causes you care about and personal interests and build relationships there.
Next, you can target online communities. There are lots of apps targeting networking these days, even dating apps like Bumble are getting in on the networking game. I think it's a great way to make a first connection, but like dating apps, taking the relationship "offline" quickly is really important to create a real relationship. Make a connection and then suggest coffee or a phone call to follow-up on a specific area of interest you share. That way you're not just swiping for connections with no IRL results. Similarly, there are active Facebook groups for all kinds of things where people connect and support each other (I really dig Tech Ladies, for example) and Slack channels for anything your little heart desires: tech, women, entertainment, and customer service, to show a few examples.
There are also what I would call "combo communities:" groups that have pretty solid online AND offline interaction with their members. My personal favorite these days is LadiesGetPaid, which has a Slack community and hosts webinars, but also hosts coffees, workshops, and happy hours all over the county.
In sum, networking is truly just creating relationships in a way that's extremely organized and a bit strategic. You can find spaces that are comfortable to you (online, offline, for things you care about) and start talking to people. For some specific thoughts on how to network once you're in the room, check out our prior post, "I don't think you can help me" - The Wrong (and Right) Way to Network.
Now get out there and make those connections!