From your first days at your big girl job, through every level of promotion, and even when you decide to branch out on your own with some freelancing, the first piece of advice most of us get is “make sure you network.”
You’re encouraged to join the right groups and go to the right meetings. However, I’d urge you to look at it in a different light. What if you took on the idea that every time you meet someone new, you’re networking? You are given a brand-new opportunity to make that first impression. When you think about it like this, every social interaction – whether it’s stopping for your morning coffee, your new workout group, or a volunteer activity – becomes a chance for you to make a connection.
When you go about these activities, the difference becomes you projecting you. Your attitude is relaxed. You’ve dressed in a way you are comfortable with every day. There’s no pressure to come away with a new client or business project. You’re focused solely on making a connection with another person.
Make sure your manners are showing. Don’t interrupt people. Take the opportunity to introduce people you already know to new people you just meet. It’s not a competition. When we all learn that helping each other out gets us farther than trying to hold someone back, we’ll be so much better off. Compliment people. If you’ve heard something great about their work, let them know. Say thank you if someone acknowledges you for the work you’ve done. Don’t play it off like “it was nothing.” Be the real you. Don’t try and use words or corporate speak that doesn’t come natural. People will know when you are authentic or not. Be confident in you.
Most importantly, pay attention. Don’t let your phone be a distraction. Don’t be so worried about your next hashtag you stop paying attention to the people around you. (See the point above – manners!!!) Use active listening. Don’t make someone else feel like what they are saying isn’t important enough to hold your attention.
Finally, reach out online, send an email, or better yet – drop them a personal note. Follow up with the people you meet. Thank them for the opportunity to get to know them. Relate a nugget from the conversation you had. Maybe you ran across an article their comment reminded you of – share it with them. If you think they’d make a great potential client, suggest a follow-up meeting. Expressions of gratitude will go a long way in opening a door to a bright future.