This week’s post comes from Elisa Peimer, one of Oren Hope’s founding partners.
Networking – you either love it or hate it. Setting up a meeting or starting a conversation with a total stranger can be challenging, especially for those who are not particularly extroverted. It can be like dating – will they like me? Will they think I’m smart? Will they find my professional skills, er, attractive?
But the truth is, there’s really nothing you can lose by networking, and a tremendous amount to gain. Especially in a down economy, knowing more people is a huge asset.
Being a good networker is a skill that, like most others, has to be practiced. Start small and easy. Network with your friends, people whom you already have social relations with, and who are either in, or tangentially related to, your industry. Ask them questions about their company, their projects. Try to discover if there’s an opportunity that they might not have seen. Friends like to help. If you’ve had that “networking” conversation, then they’ll think of you when an opportunity comes up. But if you haven’t, they won’t.
Once you’ve mastered the art of talking to your friends, it’s time to step it up. Ask them if they can recommend anyone they think you should talk to. It can be anyone – movers and shakers in your industry, colleagues with job openings, or friends who hire freelancers. Try to pinpoint what kind of people you want to meet. The more specific you are, the more likely you’ll jog someone’s memory into thinking of someone you might like to meet.
Once you have names, make sure it’s okay to use your friend’s name when making contact. Assuming it is, use that to open up the conversation. A little flattery never hurts. Tell them that your friend had great things to say about them and you’d love to take them out for coffee and find out more about what they do and listen to any advice they might have for you. Ask them if they can share their expertise and perhaps give you suggestions about steps you can take to further your goals.
It won’t always work. People can be busy and stressed and not have the time to meet with you. But it’s surprising how often you’ll find that people enjoy sharing their background and knowledge, and appreciate being turned to for advice.
Don’t be pushy – if your offer isn’t taken up, don’t press it, and don’t worry about it. Even if you’re able to meet with only a handful of people, that’s still a big number, because each one has his or her own network of connections — and now you’re connected to it.
It’s the real-world version of LinkedIn. Everyone you know knows lots of other people, and chances are your next opportunity is going to come from a personal contact. Don’t be shy. As with dating, your next big thing might be just around the corner.