Last week I registered for a LinkedIn workshop at a local college because I wanted to learn more about how to build my online network. On the day of the workshop, I felt overwhelmed by work deadlines and my son’s activities and the thought of driving across town wasn’t all that appealing.
When busy balancing work and life, networking can feel like another chore. I decided to push myself to go to the workshop and I’m glad I did. I met the instructor, Debbie Wemyss, who explained how she builds her business network by investing only about 15 minutes each day.
Wemyss told us that regardless of what we do for a living, we should be building a professional network — and it’s easier than most of us think.
According to the Harvard Business Review, research shows that a professional network leads to more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority.
For those of you with a jam-packed calendar, or lots of obligations and little free time, I have discovered it is possible to network efficiently and possibly even without leaving your office.
Here’s how to go about it:
Extend invitations online
Debbie Wemyss, a LinkedIn specialist, says she takes 15 minutes a day to invite five people to connect with her on LinkedIn. She writes each of those people a personal note about why she wants to connect. Debbie has a LinkedIn network of close to 1,000 connections. She told us she gets business regularly from people in her network. If you haven’t touched your LinkedIn profile in a while, update it and seek out people you want to connect with. To make yourself memorable, Debbie advises thanking people who connect with you.
Join online groups to network
Both Facebook and Linkedin have online groups for just about every profession. I am in writers groups on both sites. People in the groups who are in the same field you are in can be great contacts, referral sources and information providers. Group members often are willing to share information on pricing and offer strategy. You can also join groups with people you want to get exposure to such as HR directors. Once you are in the group, participate in discussions, offer your perspective and start conversations. This guide to using LinkedIn Groups may help.
Touch base with your contact list
This week I worked on a writing project that required I reach out to hundreds of business people in Florida. I realized how many of them I knew personally from building a network over many years. When I sent an email with a personal note, it was amazing how many of my contacts wrote back, eager to catch up. If you haven’t touched base with a contact in a while, reach out with a note about what made you think of them. It’s amazing how this type of networking can pay off.
Adam Penenberg, author of Play at Work: How Games Inspire Breakthrough Thinking (Portfolio, 2013) noticed several years ago that games are virtually everywhere. Companies are using online games for training but they also are using them to encourage employees to network with each other as well. If your company uses games or an internal social network to connect employees with each other, take advantage of the opportunity.
Today, video games and game apps are social activities that allow players to see each other, hear each other and talk to each other. In Forbes, Penenberg offers the example, WhaleFM, through its Whale Song Project, has rounded up legions of citizen oceanographers to listen to orcas and assist researchers in matching similar-sounding calls in the app. You can be sure those oceanographers participating are building their networks by getting to better know researchers and their peers in the profession.
Eat lunch with other people
If you truly don’t have any time outside of office hours and you normally eat at your desk, change that up. At least once a week, schedule lunch or coffee with colleagues and eat in the cafeteria, lunch room or outside the office. Ask your co-workers how they build and their networks and how you might be able to help each other. If you work from home, make an effort at least every other week to make lunch plans.
Go big with networking events
Rather than crowding your calendar with monthly meetings or stressing yourself out about getting to networking lunches, put a big industry event or annual conference on your calendar. At these large-scale events you have an opportunity to not only catch up on industry trends but also meet a lot of great people who can open the door to opportunities.
In our daily struggle for work life balance, it’s easy to push networking to the back burner. However, at some point in everyone’s career, they rely on someone in their professional network for client referrals, information, references or job leads.
Ora Shtull, an executive coach in New York City and author of The Glass Elevator: A Guide to Leadership Presence for Women on the Rise: recently shared these thoughts on networking in Working Mother Magazine “Your success is directly proportional to the depth and breadth of your relationships.”
I truly believe she is right.