The beginning of the year seems like a good time to contact people who I might be interested in working with in the future. But how do I connect with them without coming across like I’m using them?
There is no bad time to connect with people who you want to build a relationship with, but contacting people only when you want a favor is definitely inappropriate and will send the message that you are a “user.”
Remember that networking is about building and maintaining a relationship, as well as sharing information.
Several suggestions I make to clients include:
SEND A NOTE
To rekindle a relationship, send a note to let a person know that you are thinking of them. Although no special reason is required to keep in touch, a congratulatory email, a thank-you note, a birthday or holiday wish or an article that may be of interest are good ways to build relationships.
If you’ve been listening, you know something of interest to share. If you cannot think of anything to share, do some research and start listening for clues that will help you learn of the interest of those you want to network with.
Emails and text messages are convenient ways to keep in touch; however, a hand written note or a personal phone call from time to time can, and usually will, set you apart.
Sending a note telling someone that you’re thinking of them, thanking them for their support, guidance or friendship will always be well received. If you know the person reasonably well, think about something they have told you about themselves that you can add to the note showing that you have been listening.
You might also include an article, a book or some other small token of interest. For example, if you know someone likes cooking, send an interesting recipe or a link to interesting cooking gadgets. This small token allows you to be a resource without asking for anything. Your note might just say, “I saw this recipe and thought of you and how much you enjoy cooking new dishes. I hope all is well. Let’s please keep in touch."
REACH OUT TO PEOPLE YOU ADMIRE
You may have to step out of your comfort zone for this one, but you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by reaching out to those that you admire, whether personally or professionally.
Try connecting with someone who is successfully doing some of the things that you would like to do or something you want to learn more about. An example might be if you eventually want to start your own business or you would love to be better at social media, reach out to people who are doing these things well.
I suggest you have a few key questions prepared so that you are ready if the opportunity to speak with them presents itself.
Let the person know what you admire about them and why. You might be surprised at how much your positive words will be appreciated.
It should be noted that when sending email or social media messages, online etiquette is mandatory. There is nothing more annoying than getting a generic LinkedIn message (I call this the “lazy message”) from someone I don’t know asking me to be part of their network with no indication of how they know me or why we should connect.
START A MASTERMIND GROUP
The sharing of ideas with others who have something to offer is another great way to build a network.
A mastermind group allows participants to learn from one another. Participants may be of a different age group, race or gender and the group may be structured as formally or as informally as you like. Meetings can be in person or via phone and can be held as often as decided. This exchange of ideas allows for great networking relationships to be formed.
Although technology makes it easy to stay in touch, it is also important for you to be visible. Therefore, don’t rule out attending traditional networking events where you can meet like-minded people. This means attending events that are not only within your work field but also events within your other areas of interest.
When attending an event outside of your work area but one that you know and care about, you're more likely to be viewed as one-of-a-kind and better able to demonstrate your uniqueness.
NIX THE NETWORKING HANG-UPS
The biggest reservations people express about networking is that they are uneasy about contacting people because it feels like they’re asking for a favor.
My response is: Don’t ask for anything, share something instead. Make it a point to build relationships and then make a habit of following up.
The best time to develop your network is when you don’t need anything and now is a great time to start.
Marsha Haygood, Author, Life Strategist, Empowerment Coach & Founder of StepWise Associates LLC, a full-service Career and Personal Development consulting firm.
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