Networking is a big deal. Some may say it isn’t, but I’ve seen the power of it. Networking has allowed me to go from knowing nobody, to rubbing elbows with and being on a first name basis with some of the biggest names in a variety of industries. As a systems analyst I was able to use networking to go from knowing very little about computer programing to sitting in a private session with executive level leaders of the company that developed the software I was responsible for. As a children’s pastor networking allowed me to go from knowing nobody to having some of the biggest names in the industry send me personal dinner invites. As a church planter networking has allowed me to go from knowing nobody, to regular communications with some of the biggest names in that industry. As a freelance writer, networking is already allowing me to connect with some pretty awesome people, and I’m just getting started.
I’m convinced that networking can open up a wide variety of opportunities, regardless of the industry you work in or serve. So, here are 6 steps to go from networking nobody to networking ninja.
1.) Research: Seek out opportunities that already exist to connect with people in that community. In the case of my systems analyst job, such a network didn’t exist. So, I created one. However, that was in a time prior to Facebook. Here are a few options for places to find possible connections:
- Facebook groups: Regardless of your industry, niche, hobby, or whatever, chances are there is a Facebook group for it, probably multiple. Search them out. Then go ahead and join them. In many cases you are going to have to be given permission to join the group. This can take a day or two. So, go ahead and join any group that seems like it might be within the community you are trying to connect with. You can always leave any group that isn’t fruitful at a later time. The goal right now is to find as many as possible and join them.
- Instagram: Look for popular hashtags in your industry. You can also just do a search for your industry. These two things will bring up a long list of people and organizations in your industry. Then go an follow a bunch of them. You can also look and see who those people follow and who is following them. Then go and follow a bunch of those people too.
- Twitter: This works similar to Instagram in how you’re going to find people in your industry and connect with them. Take another look at the instructions for Instagram and repeat them with your Twitter account.
- Blogs: A quick google search for blogs in your industry will usually bring up a long list. Create yourself a list of blogs in the industry you are trying to connect with. There are a number of apps that will help you keep up with the blogs you are following. Pocket is what I use. Feedly is also a popular one.
2.) Connect: Once you used the information above to discover the available opportunities, connect. Join the Facebook groups. Follow people on Twitter and Instagram. Follow blogs. The goal is to begin to make connections. Send friends request to people in your industry that you find on Facebook. Like and follow their pages, as well.
3.) Observe: Spend some time watching to see the kinds of things that the people in your industry are talking about. Learn the way they communicate. For now it’s ok to be a bit of a stalker.
In Facebook groups, take some time to read the sorts of questions people are asking. Read all the posts from the past week or two, as well as all the comments. You will learn a lot about the people in the group that way. This might seem strange, but remember the goal is to, eventually, connect with the people and, as you’ll see in the next step, to add some value.
In Twitter and Instagram go to the people you connected with and go back through their posts. Again, you’re looking to learn how the people in your industry communicate, the kinds of questions they asks, and they sorts of things they talk about. Also remember to read the comments on these posts as well.
4.) Add value: Once you kinda know the industry, look for opportunities to add value. Use your experience to help people in the industry with questions or problems their facing. Remember that networking is not just about what you can get, but even more so about what you can give.
If during step 3 you come across posts that you think you can add value to, now’s the time to do it. Go back to those posts and provide some input. Remember that the goal is to help. If you can’t be respectful and truly trying to be helpful, then you are probably going to fail at this networking thing anyway. Add value, and be nice. It will get you much further.
5.) Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. They can actually help you to connect with people. I have found that, in many cases, other people had the same questions I had. I’m rarely afraid to ask a question, but many are. So, ask it for them. The people that end up answering your questions may end up being much more than just random people in some Facebook group.
6.) Go deeper: As you are reading posts, commenting, adding value, asking questions, and receiving answers begin to look for like minded people. Look for the people who keep popping up in your posts or in the posts you are commenting on. Connect with them. See if there is a relationship that can be developed and become something deeper. Send them a friend request. Send them a private message and let them know you liked their answer to a certain question or comment on a given post.
The possibilities of this system are nearly endless. I’ve seen this work in a variety of industries and in a variety of roles. I’m confident that it can work for you too, regardless of your industry. The guy that I would call my best friend is someone who I connected with through this very process. He is now someone that I am daily contact with, even though he lives hundreds of miles away.
This system has allowed me to connect with top leaders in a variety of industries to the point where I can call or email them when I have questions and often have opportunities to hang out with people I never thought I would be able to.
I’d love to hear how this system works for you.