6 Ways to grow a powerful network that runs itself
It’s often said that the key to a great career is networking. As many as half of all job offers come through referrals, and 70% of firms actively encourage referrals through incentive programs. But nursing a beer at industry events doesn’t come easily to everyone, and can be time-consuming - so here are 6 super-efficient tricks I've used to build a network that manages itself.
1. Raise your voice.
When the goal is to connect with people who can help you (and vice versa), it helps to have a consistent online ID to show what you’re all about: your work, your interests, your perspective. Set up a personal website or a blog - there are countless tools now for creating a professional-looking page or blog in minutes, from about.me to Content.ly or Medium.
Years ago, I created a blog that I knew would get very little traffic, but this quickly led to guest blogging gigs with more widely-read sites. Writing original stuff can take time; but at the very least, it never hurts to tie your communications to your personal page - ideally with your own domain and email. Just add those links to your email signature. This is a really easy way to passively build your brand.
2. Master the cold email.
Let’s face it: reaching out to people you don’t know can be tricky, especially when you need something from them. But it’s an art. With the right tone and the right “ask”, you can turn a stranger into a useful contact, a mentor or even a colleague.
As with most business emails, it helps to keep things brief. No need to explain in great detail who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish - in fact, this can be a turnoff. Simply describe off the top what you’re doing and why you’re interested in talking to that person. Then suggest grabbing a drink or bite in whatever means is most convenient for them.
3. Troll your heart out.
With a solid cold email at your disposal, don’t be shy about reaching out to people you would like to know. Many successful people I know troll Linkedin or other social networks quite shamelessly! If a person includes their contact information anywhere in their profile, it’s usually a sign that they’re open to meeting and networking with folks.
I’ve gotten super organized with this - keeping a spreadsheet, making a list of people I’d like to meet, and setting specific goals for connecting with new people each week. At one point, I set a goal of meeting someone new every time I traveled to a new city. I’d ask for an intro to someone I was interested in in that location. It might sound crazy, but I was able to build a great national network through these semi-cold intros.
4. Reap what you sow.
Over years of networking, you’ll find that helping others will come back to you. Taking the time to pay it forward is great for your professional reputation, not to mention satisfying in itself.
One simple way to apply this principle is by taking the time to connect others. A bit earlier on in my career, I made a point of never turning down meetings - and when you meet someone new, you’ll quickly get a sense of what their needs are in their business. From there, introduce them by email to 1-2 people in your network who might be able to help them.
Sure, many of these don’t lead to anything concrete. But it takes very little time, and the cost-benefit is great. Not only do you establish yourself as a “node” - a well-connected person - but others will think of you immediately when they have a need.
5. Help out with events.
For the very motivated, volunteering your time at events is an excellent way to meet people. This gets you a free pass and free education; but not only that, you’ll get to know the organizers, who often tend to be highly “networked” folks themselves. Eventually, I managed to parlay some of these relationships into speaking gigs at conferences. This is a great way to establish expert status in your industry.
When you meet someone at an event, follow up right away - within 24 hours, while the conversation is still fresh in their mind - and remind them about the content of your conversation. This way, if reconnect at some point later, past emails will make the timeline of your relationship clear.
6. Be prompt and direct.
Whether you’ve met someone at a meetup, or you’re cold-emailing a stranger you found on Linkedin, it’s very important to have a specific ask. People don’t have time to figure out your agenda - but are glad to help (or refer) you if you are clear with your needs.
What’s an example of an ask if you really just want to pick someone’s brain? Mention a specific project you’re working on, and ask if they’d be willing to give some insight given their exceptional judgment (a light touch of flattery never hurt anyone)! This works even better if there’s some concrete way for them to participate in the project, even if small. Finally, respect people’s time: If you’re the one reaching out, make an effort to make the meeting as convenient for them as possible.
It’s clear that the engine of success heavily favors strong networkers. But you don’t need to be a huge extrovert or even a natural social animal to be great at it. Instead, apply the same rigor to building your network to everything else that you do - be it engineering, product management, marketing or otherwise - and you’ll reap the rewards throughout your industry and beyond.