Six degrees of separation are allegedly all that stand between you and anyone on the planet. Or, according to my father, “There are not six degrees of separation, there are two; you just have to think hard enough.”
Like him, I’m a connector, and would agree that regardless of how many people it takes to connect us, no one is too far removed. More so, it can be a great joy to facilitate those connections for people in your network.
But I’ve also learned that just because things come naturally to me, it’s not always the same for others. I learned this most pointedly with networking. Here are 16 quick, immediate tips to help you become a better networker:
- Networking starts with your current contacts. Networking doesn’t necessarily mean actively pursuing making new relationships. Cultivate those you have already and invest in those relationships first.
- Even if you “don’t need to network,” you do. You never know when you’ll need someone to help connect you (not always professionally). It’s improper to ask someone for help when you’ve not spoken to him/her in ages, but now are doing so simply to ask for something. Therefore, refer back to tip #1.
- Think of networking as a puzzle you’re piecing together. What need does someone else have and how can you use your resources to fill that gap?
- Don’t throw your cards around. We all know the person who shoves his/her business card down your throat immediately. It’s a turnoff, and not a very polite way to engage a new contact. Offer your business card after having a conversation — and asking for the other person’s first.
- Remember their Rolodex. The power of networking is the people your contacts know, not always your contact directly. Keep that in mind as you help guide people towards how to help connect you.
- Set expectations. Let people know how and when you’ll contact them (and then do it).
- Ask questions that are deeper than, “What do you do?” When possible, begin conversations with questions about someone personally, not necessarily their profession. Get to know them and attempt to find commonalities. They will tend to remember those conversations best.
- Create “reconnect” files. In your calendar, create files on monthly rotation with lists of people you’ve met and with whom you want to keep in touch. For contacts that have more immediate, obvious value (networking partners), create individual monthly reconnect files to spark you to reach out to them in the future. No need to reach out every month, but seeing their name (relevancy) is half the battle. Reach out when you have an interesting article to share, want to see how they’re doing, or ask about their latest trip, etc. Let people know you’ll stay in touch every month or so, then do it!
- Remember birthdays (and the small stuff)! If your contact has an important meeting or proposal, remember and contact him/her to wish him/her luck and ask how he/she did. If it would be important to you, it’s likely important to him/her and will be meaningful for you to remember.
- Be specific when describing your ideal targets. This specificity can be related to job leads, sales leads, dating interests, or otherwise. “Anybody” means nobody, so get specific.
- Ask them what they need. Then try to provide it by connecting them with someone you know and trust.
- Give first — without expectation of something in return. It tends to be obvious when you give from a genuine place, rather than from a place of expecting something in return. Those who give, get, but don’t do so with immediate expectation.
- Utilize LinkedIn! Link to new and old connections, go through their contacts, and ask for introductions.
- Remember that at a networking event, everyone is there to meet new people. Going alone and walking up to strangers is the point. Everyone has some apprehension. Take the initiative.
- Ask, “Why should they care?” Do you know how to describe yourself or your business in one sentence that demonstrates some value to the listener, not couched in industry-speak? Or, can you explain it so that they might be interested in continuing the conversation? Example: I help people to ________.
- Listen more than you talk! People love to talk about themselves, and you can’t learn about the other person if you’re doing all of the talking.
If networking intimidates you — or you think you’re all set and don’t need to do it to begin with! — think again. Refer back to these tips the next time you’re looking for a reference for a personal or business service, a job lead, a new hire, or any number of other things a strong network can provide.
No one is immune from networking. Embrace it, find the fun in it, and it will serve you well.
Darrah Brustein is the co-founder of Equitable Payments, a merchant services brokerage, and founder of Atlanta Under 40, a monthly networking event for young professionals. Darrah recently authored Finance Whiz Kids, a series of kids book that teach the basics of financial education.