If you’re like me, you’d rather stick your head in the toilet then spend two hours networking with a bunch of strangers at a business group meeting or exchanging business cards at a bar on a weeknight. But we both know that networking is an important part of most jobs and it’s a way to get leads, establish relationships and grow your business. So you and I are going to have to do some face-time networking. But it can be limited. And it can be supplemented by a few simple, yet effective networking activities that we can do from our own offices. Here are three.
That’s obvious, right? We know that social media is popular. But, like anything else, we only get out of it what we put into it. My recommendation is to pick a social media platform (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn) and be excellent at it. Spend time on it every day. Get the mobile app so you can engage all the time. Don’t just join groups, but participate in them. Don’t just “connect” with people, but send them messages and embrace the networking features that some of these platforms have – liking, loving, congratulating, re-tweeting, etc. Don’t just join but be an active member of the community. Contribute brilliant thoughts, create articles, comment on others, send helpful links. If, for example, you choose to be a superstar on LinkedIn you’ll create an online community of potential prospects and friends that could be way more valuable to you than the occasional breakfast meeting at the local chamber of commerce.
Communities can be found outside of social media. I like reddit. It’s the ultimate community for just about any topic or interest you can think of. There are millions of people on Reddit every day. Become a member, pick from one of the tens of thousands of subreddits and get involved in discussions. Sure, you’ll meet some crackpots. And if you’re not careful you might get sucked into a time-wasting, mind-numbing conversation comparing Superman and Batman. But you’ll also develop relationship with like-minded people that may turn into opportunities. If you’re not up for the (sometimes) craziness of the Redditors, find an online community in your industry. Many industry groups offer community forums on their websites for discussions on products, services and issues that affect their members. Becoming active there will certainly introduce you to potential opportunities.
Contact management is old school. It’s a typical salesperson’s approach. You invest in a customer relationship management system (there are many good, cloud-based services that are very affordable). And then you throw yourself into it. You bring in all your contacts. You schedule followups for everyone. You’re emailing and calling during the day. You’re checking in with people just to say hi. You’re sending even the most distant acquaintances a link or an article or a birthday card or just a plain messaging saying “hello.” This is also online networking – you’re spending the time developing relationships without leaving your desk. I’m always networking with my community of contacts throughout the day. I’ve become email buddies and phone friends with people that have turned into customers without me ever meeting them face-to-face.
Networking doesn’t have to be boring breakfasts and evening business card exchanges. There are good ways to develop relationships without leaving your office. In the end, you get out of these activities what you put into them.