How to build a strong network from scratch

networking-tips

Every few months I find the topic around professional development in my network seems to shift. Lately, I keep hearing about networking and how it's so important.

But how does networking actually take place in 2017?

I wanted to share with you how I personally network online and offline. By the way, this blog post isn't just a piece of content. This is something I'm insanely passionate about.

Even if you don't have any knowledge of your industry and no connections or relatives in the field you're interested in pursuing, you'll be able to apply these strategies.

You can apply these networking tips whether you're a seasoned employee or still in college.

How networking changed my life and career path when I was twenty-one

When I first started telling my friends that I quit my job, moved to New York City and was working for a startup, everyone had the same questions.

"How did you learn about startups?"

"How do I join?"

The short answer is, a friend told me about them so I applied for jobs until I landed one. But the truth is, it's a little deeper than that.

I quite possibly could have gone a few more years or a lifetime without learning about the startup industry if it weren’t for my network.

I only discovered that the startup industry was even a thing shortly after turning 21. I had met up with a friend for lunch one day when she told me how she was recruited out of her retail job to work for one. 

By the way, this friend was someone I met on Myspace in middle school who attended school near me and also ran track and field. We met in the real world during our high school track and field days where we continued to be friends.

After high school, I knew we needed to continue to be friends. We were way too similar, enjoyed the same form of entertainment and were originally studying fashion design.

So even though we were on competing teams, went to school in two totally different towns, and had a lot going on in our personal lives after high school, we stayed connected.

The day my friend shared with me that she was working for a startup, she changed my life. Little pieces of information like this are priceless.

Networking 101

The prep work most people won't tell you about because they're probably not doing it themselves

Before we continue this conversation, I want to make a two very important points.

Remember to diversify your network. If you're in college, it's important to mingle with your peers, but also consider making connections with people currently in the workforce. Just because you live in one city, does'nt mean you can't benefit from networking with someone across the country. Get outside of your bubble.

The more diverse your network is, the easier it is to make career moves and connections. Think about it. If you only network with people in one industry in one city, what happens if you want to move or switch industries? You're starting from scratch.

The second thing I want to share with you is that you need to join Linkedin. Linkedin is a free social media site for professionals. I talk about Linkedin in more detail in my books and courses, but for the sake of this blog post and the information I'm sharing with you, you'll at least need a Linkedin profile to follow some of this advice.

Action step #1:

  • Join Linkedin for free
  • Upload a profile picture to your profile
  • Add your current job title onto the platform
  • Become more familiar with the site

Action step #2:

  • Become more familiar with the website and its functionalities
  • If you're looking for a job at a specific company go onto Linkedin and check if they're currently hiring for the position you're interested in
  • Follow the company on Linkedin to receive updates
  • Check to see if you or anyone you know is connected to someone at the company and reach out to them
  • Find out the hiring managers name and contact them directly on Linkedin
  • Like or share company updates and highlights when relevant

Action step #3:

  • Look up local events and meetups geared towards your industry
  • Consider starting an online or offline meetup group if one doesn't exist to your needs
  • Define your networking goals
  • Meet new people, add them on Linkedin or to a spreadsheet to follow up with them in the future

How to stay organized while networking

This next one is something I was able to find a solution for thanks to online dating. When I dropped out of college, Tinder was new and so was the professional world. Each week, I was meeting so many people whether it be professionally or personally that I quickly found a way to keep my network organized.

At the time what I did was, each time I added a new contact to my phone, I had a formula that I would type into their contact description so that I would remember how we met, their details, and so I could easily find them in my phone if I couldn't remember their name.

Because not everyone in my network is on Linkedin, I needed an additional way to organize the connections I made off the platform. So I found a more streamlined way thanks to IFTTT.

I set up a trigger where if I added a new contact to my phone it would add that contact information to a spreadsheet, then I could take that information from that spreadsheet and say oh, I'm gonna follow up with so and so because I want to freelance for them or I want to follow up with someone because they were cool, and I just want to see what's going on in their life. Kinda like my friend earlier.

Action step #4:

  • Sign up for a free IFTTT account
  • Sift through the thousands of IFTTT recipes
  • Find an organizational trigger that works best for your lifestyle

How to nurture your network in a genuine way

Once you've become acquainted with Linkedin and your networking of choice, it's time to nurture your network.

I personally never network with people I'm not genuinely interested in talking to again. So I find it easy to reach out and catch up with people in my network, which also makes it easier when I'm interested in a favor or introduction.

Action step #5:

  • Opt to never send copy and pasted canned messages via email or inMail
  • Opt not to use canned networking emails you found online
  • Follow up with your network via email, inMail, or social media
  • Don't save networking for when you need a favor

I personally never need a reason to reach out to my network. If I remember a friend mentioning they were looking for a new job at a certain company or in a certain field, I'll send over a few links to job postings I came across that day or offer to introduce them to someone in my network.

I think of it as a way to say hey, I was thinking about you and remember what we talked about, here's a resource.

Action step #6:

  • Figure out your networking and nurturing strategy
  • Reach out to three people in your network to catch up
  • Add one new person on Linkedin and introduce yourself in your invitation

Alrighty, I know that was a dense one, but I hope you found it helpful.

How do you grow your network? Comment below!

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