Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But taking some baby steps towards building your own network doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Here are some straightforward networking tips to get even the most private of persons out of their comfort zone:
1) Ask people questions about themselves
Most people love to talk about themselves. It’s not boasting. Well, not all the time. It’s just human nature. You’re your own specialist subject – and everyone likes it when someone takes an interest in them.
That’s not to say you should go into a networking event (or any other situation – See Tip 3) and start interrogating people. But why not have a few questions ready to go?
Whether the person you’re speaking to is a high-flying CEO, has a dozen letters after their name, is a business owner, franchisee or someone fresh out of university, they’re still a person. Stop worrying about what they think about you. Try to think about them a little.
2) Adapt to the way an individual expects to be treated
The old adage “do unto others as you would have done to you” isn’t quite the right approach for most networking situations. Instead, your attitude needs to adapt to each person you speak to. Are they in the technical side of their business? Are they in sales?
After you’ve asked your questions or spoken to them a little, you should have at least some sort of “read” on them. Don’t use the same cookie-cutter approach on everyone. Speak to each individual in as close as you can get to the manner they’re used to.
3) Everywhere you meet people is a networking event
Are you at your local gym? Doing your normal fitness class? In your favourite bar or local restaurant? If there are people around you, that’s a networking opportunity. You can be as open about it as you want to be. But, come on, how many times have you struck up a conversation with a stranger? The question “so, what do you do?” is a default for most people.
Well, random stranger, here’s what I do. What about you? Maybe we’re in a position to help each other out…
4) Give generously (even if it’s of no immediate benefit to you)
Networking isn’t all take, take, take. Quite the opposite. You need to be prepared to invest your time and your expertise. And maybe not even get anything out of it. At least, not instantly.
So what if you meet someone who’s looking into buying a franchise and you don’t have any franchise opportunities? Do you know someone who’s a franchise owner? What does it matter if you know someone who needs a PR expert and that’s not you? Don’t you have that friend of a friend who is?
Make the connection. Then, when you need something later, don’t be afraid to ask.
5) Reach out to diverse people (outside of your comfort zone)
If you’re like most people, you’ll naturally gravitate to spending time with people who think like you do. You’ll like at least some of the same things. And maybe you’re even in the same sort of business or role.
But the people with the best networks, by and large, have the most diverse networks.
That’s why you treat every situation as a networking situation. Why you need to ask people questions about themselves. And why you need to adapt to them and give generously.
Because you never know who you might need to know.
Some great networking ideas include Business Network International (BNI), District 32 and also Facebook groups such as local community small business networks.