Your grandparents may be old-fashioned, but when it comes to building their network, they know their stuff. Here’s what you can learn from them.
In today’s fast-paced world of branded personal narratives and social media blitzes, it can be hard to slow down. You live in the golden age of ceaseless self-promotion, but that doesn’t mean your every exhale needs to contain a horn-tooting statement nor your every keystroke a mini press release.
Yet, to many people, this is exactly what the word “networking” implies: an all-out firestorm of meeting and greeting, everything delicately iced with your signature brand of modest self-congratulation. It’s no surprise you’ve spent years shying away from the process. Who wants to deal with all that?
Well, the good news is that this is a misperception. Done right, networking needn’t be stressful or feel sleazy. Instead, take a cue from good old Grandpappy, and apply a more old-fashioned approach to this sometimes daunting chore. Check out these 10 tips for ways to start building your network authentically and worry-free. (Click here to tweet this list.)
1. Be on time
Punctuality always helps to make a great first impression. But being on time can reward you in more ways than one. For instance, Entrepreneur recommends showing up early for conferences and events. That way, you get a chance to scope out the scene before the crowds roll in and can easily find other people to connect with.
2. Don’t discount anyone
The idea of networking is frightening. In response, we tend to take a fear-based approach, only listing someone as a potential contact if a) we know them pretty well and b) they owe us one. Instead, make a list of everyone you know. That way you won’t miss someone who could help you.
3. Be formal
All right, so “To Whom It May Concern” has gone the way of the dinosaur. But people still appreciate formality and may take umbrage if you use their first names uninvited. To avoid looking presumptuous, use last names until otherwise informed, along with a “Mr.” or “Ms.” Avoid using “Mrs.” unless you happen to know the lady in question is married.
4. Celebrate good times
In the old days, people celebrated their clients’ wins and triumphs, marriages and babies, successful ventures and new launches. Grab some small-town spirit and send congratulatory notes to those in your network. It’s a great way to connect and put yourself back on their radar.
5. Get to the point
Granddaddy didn’t mess around, so why should you? If you’ve got a question to ask, ask it. State the nature of the favor you’d like instead of beating around the bush and hoping someone will suggest it. Get to the point: Everyone appreciates it.
6. Be strategic
Networking shouldn’t resemble a game of pin the tail on the donkey. Make a plan, then follow it. For instance, you might start by making a list of the contacts you regularly turn to, then broaden that list with online contacts you don’t know quite as well. Next on the strategic agenda: cold-calling.
7. Give like there’s no tomorrow
You’re not in kindergarten, but the golden rule still applies. If you want someone to do something for you, be generous in turn. Helping people is a great way to get noticed, so make introductions and do small favors whenever you can. Especially when giving costs you nothing, as is the case with a short positive review or testimonial, it’s a savvy thing to do.
8. Follow up
Although “following up” can seem synonymous with “badgering the heck out of,” that’s not true. When you wait a respectful amount of time before checking back in with a potential employer, client or contact, you appear conscientious and organized. Just don’t go overboard: If someone doesn’t get back to you after two attempts, beat a quiet retreat.
9. Keep it local
Your grandfather often didn’t have much of a choice, but you do. While networking outside your area isn’t off the table, you may get further in your hometown. Equal opportunity is a nice idea, but in reality, people like to help others in their own community. Plus, when it comes to the job search, employers usually respond better to applicants who don’t have to move.
10. Be polite
Good manners consist of more than “please” or “thank you.” They also require that you respect the time, interests and energy of others. If you’re pitching an idea, for instance, check in with phrases such as “Would you like to hear more?” This tells your listener that you care about them and value their opinion, which increases your chances of actually getting a yes.
Sarah Beth Moore is a freelance writer and web designer living in the Pacific Northwest. She has a master’s degree in education as well as journalism, and blogs at http://positivelydreaming.com.