When I was searching for my first job, everyone told me to get out and network.
“Networking,” they said, “that’s how you get a job,” they said.
But you know what? I didn’t even know what that meant. I imagined people in suits using buzzwords like “synergy” trying to get hired.
Once I actually started networking, I realized that networking is really about knowing a bunch of people. These people are around to recommend you for jobs, ask for advice, and generally help you out.
They're not people you contact just to get something-- they're people you actually know and like, even if they're not part of your everyday life.
I pride myself in being a connected person, so when someone is looking to make a hire, I scout like a detective. And when it’s time to promote something at Grasshopper, I’m always thinking of ways my connections can help.
I’m a firm believer, just like those people who told me networking was key, in connections for success. Connections are word-of-mouth marketing. Connections create growth.
Here’s the advice I’d give to anyone who wants to leverage their network to build their business:
**1. ** Collect Your People
If you want to build your business, you need help from people. Before you go out and try to connect with your city’s resident startup expert, turn to the people you already know.
When I started my side project, I didn’t ask for advice from the writers of TechCrunch. I asked my boyfriend, a programmer, to help me build my website. I asked my girlfriends for help putting together product and price packages, and asked my dad, a business owner, for financial advice.
Even when I was getting started at Grasshopper, I asked writers I already knew for advice.
How to do it:
- Tap into your high school and college's alumni networks (I know that high school seems like a long time ago, but I actually referred a high school friend to a job here!).
- Use LinkedIn to connect with friends, family, and local colleagues.
- Get out of your house. Don't be afraid to talk to strangers. It sounds crazy, but you can get a job or opportunity just by being in the right place at the right time (I got my first freelance job because I started a conversation with someone on a subway).
**2. ** Become a Local Name
One of the best ways of meeting new people is to become a local name. That sounds really hard, like I’m asking you to become the mayor, but it’s actually quite doable, simply by attending events.
If you make it a point to be at (almost) every industry event in your city or town, people will get to know your name and face. If you volunteer to talk on panels, help out at community events (like at your kids' school or a local running race), then you’ll naturally make connections.
And because you’re a business owner, people won’t just know you—they’ll also know your business.
I'm not sure I've made it to local name status yet, but I do try to attend as many Boston Content events as I can, and I try to build relationships with others in the community. My dad is the shining example of a local name-- we can't go anywhere in my hometown without running into someone he knows (and when local people hear my last name, they automatically associate me with his business).
**3. ** Follow Up After You Meet People
In order to become a local name and forge real relationships, you need to follow up after you meet people (saying you will doesn't count). And sometimes, meeting people doesn’t mean meeting them in person. Often you can create a connection online.
You might make a connection with someone you’ve partnered with, or who works for a company you know and love, or just randomly followed you on Twitter because they liked something you wrote (this happened to me, and now I go on runs each week with my Twitter friend).
Here are a few things I’ve done to follow up after “meeting people,” either when I’m out and about, or sitting at my desk (bear with me, some of them are weird):
- Followed them on Twitter, and sent them a Tweet (sometimes I do this while I’m meeting the person. I say something like “hey, what’s your Twitter handle? I’d love to follow you.”)
- Sent them an email the day after, offering my help. Here’s a real example:
- Invited them to attend a free exercise class with me, or to go on a run (I’m always looking for exercise buddies in the city).
- Asked them if they’d like to contribute a blog post to the Grasshopper blog, or asked if I could contribute something to their blog.
- Connected them on LinkedIn with a nice note.
- Offered to read and review their online dating profile, just for kicks.
**4. ** Always Do Favors FIRST
Leveraging your connections doesn't mean sending out a mass mailing to every email address you have and saying 'help.' Before you ask your friends, family, and professional connections for their expertise or assistance, you should be offering favors.
Ask if there's anything you can do for them. Maybe they have a side project they need help on. Maybe they need help finding the right person for a new position. Maybe they just need another player on their soccer team.
Before you make any sort of ask, offer yourself up. Or don't even make the offer-- just do what you think will help them out. If the person is trying to boost their blog, share their posts and write comments. If they need testimonials, write one.
**5. ** Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
When you need help or expertise, you've got to ask.
If you keep quiet, you can't expect results.
I used my professional friends (they’re not just my “contacts”) to promote JUMP: The Ultimate Guide to Starting and Growing a Business, our most recent guide, with smashing success.
Instead of emailing the group and saying 'hey, please, please, please share this!' I asked them for feedback on an individual level.
This was good for two reasons-- 1.) It gave me actual feedback on all the hard work I'd put into the content so that we could improve future projects and 2.) people didn't feel pressured to share. If they liked it, they shared it, if not, no hard feelings.
Plus, I was able to create another touchpoint with these people that I already like. If they ever need something from me, I'll be happy to do my part to offer feedback or share their work.
**6. **Be a Friend
Don't be a networking guru. Be a friend.
Everyone feels awkward at professional events, so if you're friendly and keep things light, asking honest questions about what someone does, it will be easy to connect. Someone will like you just because you made the event a little less awkward!
Give and you shall receive. One is silver and the other is gold. All that friendly kind of stuff.
Be Yourself and Your Friendlies Will Follow
Be your lovely self and the friends will follow. They'll be there when you need advice, a push forward, or just someone to vent to.
Your Turn: Do you agree with my networking advice? How do you network? What would you tell a small business owner or someone who works at a startup?