- We all know networking is valuable. Job opportunities, referrals, market insights, those all come from people in your network. So you might as well work to expand that. And yet, we often don't do it. A big part of the reason is that networking can often feel overwhelming. And it's true, you could spend all your time having coffee or lunches or drinks after work with people, but it doesn't have to be that way. And even small doses of networking can make a big difference in your professional success because it's about the quality of your connections, not the quantity.
Here are three ways you can take charge and make your networking more powerful and efficient. First, recognize that even though grabbing coffee with someone is the standard default form of networking, you don't actually have to do all your networking one on one. Instead sometimes it's even more effective to think about a couple of your colleagues that you think should know each other and be a match maker. For instance, a couple of years ago, I was in the Bay area on a short business trip. I didn't have much time for socializing and I wanted to see my friends John and Susan who didn't know each other.
But I realized they were both entrepreneurs who lived in the same town, and I thought they might enjoy each other's company. I suggested dinner for the three of us and it was a hit. They became good friends and frequently go to networking events together now. That dinner was not only more efficient for me because I got to see them both at the same time, but it produced a better result for all of us because they got to see me and form a new friendship. A second variation of this is organizing larger group gatherings. That might sound intimidating but the truth is you probably do this already in your personal life.
Have you ever had a dinner party? Or invited a group of friends to meet for drinks? You can do the same thing with professional contacts. The only thing to keep in mind is that it's useful to organize the group thematically in some way. So the attendees have some common thing to talk about. It could be a group of alumni from your college or women entrepreneurs or friends in journalism or people who love the arts. It doesn't have to be too specific, just enough to ensure the conversation flows and they have something to fall back on if there's a lull in the discussion. Similarly, your colleagues will likely be grateful to you for taking the initiative to organize them and you'll get the credit for the connections they make as a result.
Finally, the most important step is executing and putting networking on your calendar. Meeting new people is important for your long term professional success, but it's never urgent. So many people shove it to the side when they get busy. That's why you have to make a concerted effort to protect that time. It doesn't even have to be a lot. Michael Katz, a consultant I interviewed, told me he sticks to a simple but clear goal. Every week he has one in-person networking meeting. The week we met, I was that meeting. If someone else wants to talk with him and he's game for it, he says yes and makes a date for another week.
It's not an overwhelming amount of time, just an hour or two a week. But it ensures that he makes at least 50 good new contacts every year which is a great discipline. Many professionals resist networking because they assume it has to take a ton of time, but that's simply not true. There are ways to meet people and build relationships that are efficient and effective. Follow these steps and you can do it too.