No matter how uncomfortable it may be, you need to be able to network.
I always felt uneasy about going to traditional networking events like breakfast meetings or after-work drinks. To me, they were often painful and seemed ingenuine, with lots of people approaching me with their card and a pitch about why I should buy from them or tell my clients about them. I’d leave these events feeling drained and frustrated.
Unsurprisingly, I’m not alone. Research shows us that networking can make people anxious, and one in four people don’t network at all. And because professional relationships formed primarily for the purpose of getting ahead tend to feel one-sided and selfish, we find ways to avoid networking altogether.
No matter how uncomfortable it may be, you need to be able to network. It allows you to meet influential people in your field and helps you grow professionally. Not to mention, people who make an effort to improve their networks are 42%–74% more likely to be promoted than those who didn’t.
For me, I finally began to feel more comfortable networking after finding ways to transform a painful experience into a personal one.
Here are several methods I’ve used to get better at networking—and grow my business in the process:
Start by offering something valuable
Networking can sometimes feel like a one-way street to extract benefits without giving anything in return. But when you take the time to consider your counterpart’s interests, needs, or desires—and how you can potentially meet them—you won’t leave the exchange feeling empty. You might end up with a friend for life.
So instead of seeing networking in a negative light, try focusing on how you can bring value to the other person.
I approach people with one goal: to deeply listen to them and offer my expertise when I think I can help. Rather than talk about my business, I find ways I can relate to their needs and offer my own insight.
I’m not just networking—I’m providing something of value and starting a genuine relationship.
By finding unique ways to bring value to people, networking begins to feel equal and natural. And the other person is more likely to work equally hard to give you the same value in return.
Focus on establishing human connections
Networking isn’t just something you do when the need arises. You wouldn’t call your friend only when you need a favor, and similarly, you can’t just network when you want to grow your career or business.
Instead, you have to focus on establishing a rewarding, long-term relationship with others.
This requires authenticity. To begin building these authentic relationships, you can:
- Practice patience and allow relationships to grow with time, rather than forcing them to evolve too quickly. Approach networking the same way you would nurture a new friendship, slowly getting to know each other over weeks, months, and years. Then, when you do need advice, the relationship has been established, and it’s easier to go to that person for support.
- Stay persistent with relationships that matter by sending personal messages and checking-in from time to time. Cultivating kindness and consistency in your relationships goes a long way.
- Make introductions between peers. By helping others meet people, you’ll strengthen your bonds with both contacts and foster trust and reciprocity in the process.
Give a genuine gift to the whole room
For 11 years in a row, I grew my business by 40% per year. The greatest tool for doing this was giving short speeches at networking groups.
Many of these events will have a speaker, who offers insights and inspiration. However, they often struggle to find a decent speaker who will do this for free without turning it into a sales pitch that makes the audience groan.
I reached out to every networking event I could find and offered to deliver an interactive workshop, sharing some of the best insights that I gave to paying clients. I knew that everyone attending would leave feeling they had learned something beneficial and would also be more likely to want to talk to me afterward and build a lasting connection.
At one of these events, there was a lady in the audience that happened to be the Head of Learning and Development for a major telecom company. Over the next couple of years, we gained over £250,000 of work from her. From one short speech that offered genuine value.
The good news is that you don’t have to love networking to be good at it. You just need to approach it differently by offering something of value and continually finding ways to make connecting with others a part of your routine.
If you can do that, you won’t just become a better networker—you’ll feel more fulfilled and build strong relationships that will positively impact your career for years to come.
If you would like to learn more about improving your communication at work you can listen to my new podcast ‘Born To Speak’ on iTunes.