Habitual Networking: Growing Your Personal and Professional Circles


  Habitual Networking: Growing Your Personal and Professional Circles

Ever had a moment when you felt stuck? Like you’re spinning your wheels, going nowhere fast?

We all have. But networking can help us get unstuck. Networking is the act of meeting new people and connecting with old contacts in order to find new opportunities or helpful information. It’s an activity that can make you more productive and profitable.

But networking can be complicated — you might be thinking, "I don't have time to network! I need to get more done." Or, you might think, "I already have a lot of friends. I don't need any more."
Or, you might think, "I'll never get enough out of networking if I join a group and then only meet once a month for two hours." Or maybe you're thinking: "Everybody's doing this. I have no chance!"
But believe me: Networking is easier than you think. You just need the right tools and right habits.

In today’s blog post, I’ll describe the four steps you can follow to make networking work for you. So if you're not making time for networking, forget the "I don't have time" excuse. And if you feel like your network is full and doesn't need building on, think again.

Step One: Get clear about what networking means to you.
You may already know that the word "networking" describes a bunch of different activities: joining professional associations; attending get-togethers with business people; making career-related connections at conferences or conventions; being active in online communities; running as a candidate for an office or leading committees in your profession.
But maybe you're not sure. For example, do you have a network of friends that you never meet in person? Or are you networking with people within your phone book or on your Yahoo or Gmail account? You need to be clear about the kind of networking that works best for you.
Why is it so important to be clear about what networking means to you? Because it's different things for different people. There are several ways in which we think about and talk about "networking." And they're all very different.
Let’s take a closer look at each thing we commonly think of as "networking.”
1. Joining professional associations. This is the most common type of networking you do. You don't have to be an active member of any particular association. You just decide to join and then spend as much time as you want learning about the activities and interests of the group. When you join a professional association, you seek out people with similar interests and see whether they might know someone else who knows someone else who can help you with your job, your career, or your business idea. And that's why it's called networking: because you're trying to meet new people!
2: Attending get-togethers with business people. This is the second most common type of networking you do. You may have a party or a meeting in your office on Friday night, and you see all your colleagues there. It's really comfortable to be with other people who share the same interests and passions. But it's not the same thing as meeting new people—you meet those people because they're at this party or this event!
3: Making career-related connections at conferences or conventions. You might go to a conference where there's an entire career track for job seekers. You might also go to an art festival where there are people selling their paintings and sculptures. Or you might be at a professional conference where there are a lot of different panels discussing the latest trends. In all these situations, you're going to be walking around meeting new people who are interested in the same things as you. And those other people may have the potential to help you out.
4: Being active in online communities. For example, you might be on LinkedIn or Facebook and belong to groups that help professionals find jobs or start businesses. You might be active on blogs and read and comment on the latest posts. Think of these groups as virtual networking opportunities—where you get to meet your friends online.
5: Running for office or leading committees in your profession. Even though there are many different groups that do a lot of networking, this is my favorite way to think of it. You may be thinking, “I have no time! I need to get more done!” But when you run for office or lead a committee, you're meeting new people who are interested in the same things, laughing about the same things and working hard for the same things as you. It's an activity that can make you more productive and profitable.
What's the best way to be clear about what networking means to you? You need to take a step back and make a list of the different activities that you’ve already been participating in. Think about how each one connects with your professional activities. For example, is there someone who can help you with your job or career? (Doing a presentation at an event.) Are there professionals you've met at conferences? (Being active in online communities.)
Once you've looked at each of these things, it's easier to understand how they're all part of what we call "networking."
At this point, a lot of people find it difficult to say no. Have you ever been to a party or a networking event that turned out to be awkward, boring or unproductive? Or maybe you've gone to a party and someone offered you refreshments—the kind of refreshments that are free, but they're not very good. (Maybe it was some iced tea that tasted like water, or maybe it was an oversized candy bar.)
So how do you go about saying no? Here are four steps to take:
Decide what's most important for you. What activities do you have time for? If it turns out that there isn't enough time in your schedule for all the activities described above, then focus on just one or two.

Conclusion: When you start networking, it's easy to get overwhelmed—it's so easy to say yes to everything! But you have to be honest with yourself and set priorities. What are your goals for networking? And how much time can you afford to spend on each activity?
5. Put the "no" into networking. There are times when no is the right answer. In fact, saying no is one of the most important skills in any type of professional life! So here's how you can say no:
When someone asks you if you want to go with them or do something with them – say, "No, but I would like you introduce me to [insert person] who might be interested in [insert topic].

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