You know the guy who chats up strangers in the elevator and blankets a cocktail party with his business cards?
That’s not me.
I have zero interest in what most people think of as networking.
So I was caught off guard recently when a colleague said to me, “You’re so good at networking — how do you do it?”
I thought she was nuts.
But then, I realized I have built a substantial network of valuable relationships with a wide variety of people — I just didn’t do it in a traditional way.
Here’s how I did it and how you can do the same — even if you hate “networking.”
1. Create something to draw people to you.
If you hate networking it’s probably in part because you dread the idea of pursuing people.
But that’s not the only way to network.
You can invert the process and create something to attract people to you instead of needing to initiate every relationship yourself.
The most effective way I’ve done this is through my For The Interested newsletter.
By publishing a newsletter that features ideas to help people learn, do, and become better at their work, art, and life, I created something that draws people into my network.
It does the work for me.
More than 25,000 people have subscribed to it and in doing so it’s led to thousands of interactions with people who are now part of my network.
Since it’s a weekly newsletter, it also gives me a recurring presence in my network’s inbox each week which keeps me on their radar as opposed to somebody who gave them a business card at a conference last year and then disappeared.
A newsletter is a great tool for growing your network, but it’s far from the only one.
Anything you create that provides value for others and can be shared will draw people into your network so you don’t have to do all the outreach yourself.
2. Help people already in your network.
Worry more about serving the people in your network than you do about bringing in new people.
Look for ways you can help people you’ve connected with and you’ll discover doing so leads them to tell others about you and what you can do.
If somebody’s looking for a job and you can connect them to an opportunity, do so..
If somebody needs advice on a project and you have expertise, share it with them.
The best way to grow is to serve.
3. Surround yourself with great networkers.
I’ve built a strong network, but I’m still not a great networker — it’s not how I’m wired.
But since I recognize that, I make an effort to surround myself with others who are great networkers — I even married one!
(Her networking skills actually led to our first date, but that’s a story for another day.)
If you can develop relationships with even a couple people who have large and actively growing networks, you’ll be able to benefit from the power of their relationships and their ability to network.
4. Do a lot of things.
The most effective connections come as a result of successful work you do with others.
The more things you do, the more projects you tackle, and the more opportunities you pursue, the more relationships you’ll build.
(It’s also how you get your dream job.)
I’ve had 10 full-time jobs in my 20-year career already and countless more side projects.
That made it almost impossible for me to not have established a solid network along the way.
5. Expand your network beyond your niche.
Don’t just do a lot of things, do a lot of different things.
Try new projects with new people in new fields to broaden the scope of your network. The more diverse it is, the more valuable it becomes.
It’s great to have relationships with 50 writers if you’re a writer, but it’s more valuable to have relationships with 20 writers, 10 business executives, 10 academics, and 10 artists.
6. Have something to talk about.
To grow your network you must connect with people — and to do that you need to have a lot of different things to talk about with different people.
One of the biggest benefits I get from writing my For The Interested newsletter is that it forces me to consume and consider a wide variety of interesting ideas each week.
These ideas give me an arsenal of things to discuss with people I meet and the ability to always find something valuable to share with them.
It makes connecting with people — even people who I don’t have a lot in common with — easier than it otherwise would be.
Find ways to increase the volume and variety of information you consume because the more you know, the more your network can grow.
7. Quality matters more than quantity.
Too much networking advice is driven by misleading metrics.
When you reach out to people without providing them value, you don’t strengthen your network — you weaken it.
Adding somebody’s name to your contacts because they handed you their business card while waiting for an Uber doesn’t mean you have a relationship with them.
Networking is an exchange of value — what matters are the people you can count on to help you and those who you have helped.
Your network is an active organism, not a collection of email addresses from people who don’t remember giving them to you.
8. Interview people to meet them.
Here’s a simple networking hack.
If you want to meet and connect with somebody, offer to interview them.
Whether you have a podcast, blog, newsletter, or even just for your Facebook or LinkedIn page, asking to interview the person you’d like to meet will drastically increase the chances they say yes.
Everybody’s ego enjoys the idea of people wanting to hear what they have to say and they’ll also enjoy the opportunity to provide knowledge/value to the others who may consume the interview.
And for you, there’s no better way to develop a relationship with somebody than to spend 30 minutes asking them about how they see the world.
9. People don’t have to know you to be in your network.
Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, and James Altucher are all in my network even though I’ve never met them (except for Gary back in 2008 — amazing to see how far he’s come and I’m thrilled for his success).
You don’t need a person to know you to recoup value from them.
I’ve followed each of the three people above for years and consumed their ideas in books, podcasts, blog posts, videos, and social media feeds.
They’ve influenced my work — likely more so than 99% of the people in my network who actually know me.
You can do the same.
Identify a few people who you can have a “virtual” relationship with and some day those relationships might become more than just virtual.
It’s your network. It can include anybody you want.
One more thing…
Each week I share a collection of 5 ideas like this to help you learn, do, and become better at your work, art, and life.
You can check out recent issues here.
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