When you're out swapping business cards with Pokemon-like fervor, a thought might sometime creep up that could put a crimp in your stride: Is any of this going to come to anything? It will if you actually make genuine connections for work. Having a lottery of email addresses and vague Twitter connections might feel like you've got this networking thing down-pat, but there's no telling if any of them will actually bring up your name when a new freelance opportunity pops up, or when a client needs to be referred. Unless you're top of mind, your name is just another business card that's aimlessly rattling around the bottom of their work bag.
The trick to grow in your career and establish yourself in your industry has nothing to do with a numbers game. Instead, you have to focus on connecting in an authentic, relatable way. Think of it this way: If you hear of a work opportunity that a friend would be perfect for, would you bypass them to hand it over to someone else you're hazily familiar with? There's not a chance. But the hitch here is exactly how do you make real connections while networking? It's really not such a Rubix cube after all.
1. Act Authentic
If you're bubbly and energetic, present yourself that way with everyone you meet. If you're reserved but thoughtful, don't try to change your character to fit a professional-inspired mold. The easiest way to make genuine connections is to let people click with your personality. "In the beginning of my career, I wish I'd had the self confidence to present an authentic version of myself as opposed to projecting what I assumed people wanted to see. I accept that I may have been less than some people expected but because I only showed up as the business version of myself, most people remained unaware that I was so much more than what they were being shown," Sallee Poinsette-Nash, Business and Brand Troubleshooter, shares in an email interview with Bustle. Be authentic and your tribe will form naturally.
2. Forward Them Articles
Professionals that are linked up on social media often times use these platforms as a way to find more information about their industry and interests. Following that, show that you're keeping a particular connection in mind by forwarding an article you think they might like. "If you read an interesting article that you think would help the girl you met at last week's event, hit forward on email or tag them on social media," Poinsette-Nash suggests. It shows you have their name top of mind, and they'll be more inclined to keep you higher on their list, too.
3. Help Spread Their Work
You don't need to make a glittery poster shouting their praises, but a simple thoughtful tweet could go a long way. "Write an article or blog post about them, share their project with your community, offer to spread their message through a video interview with them. Give real thought to who you could connect them with to benefit their goals," career coach Scott Dinsmore at Forbes suggested in an article. Helping to put their name further out in the industry will make them feel more inclined to return the favor.
4. Share Your Skills
Try to offer up what you're good at, but with no strings attached. If you're great at writing code, offer to make a part of their site work better. If you're amazing at design, offer to whip together a new logo idea. "A great way to make a lasting connection is to be helpful if you can be," Adrian Granzella Larssen, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Muse agreed. While you might not have time to hand out freebies left and right, reaching out with a helping hand every now and then goes a long way.
5. Ask For Help
Make your connection feel like you value their opinion and expertise - and the best way to do that is to ask for their help. While you don't want to come off as needy and pushy, make sure the request is relatively simple. Dinsmore suggested something along the following, "Make it simple, specific, quick and unique to them. If they’re a brilliant copywriter and constantly stress the importance of powerful headlines, then write a two sentence note asking for a one minute favor to help pick between two options, and let them know how much you respect their expertise." They'll be flattered.
6. Keep An Eye On Their Interests Or Goals
There's no way you can figure out how to extend a helping hand if you know nothing about your contact. So bone up on your research. "Do your research by reading blog posts, books and articles about the connection beforehand. Learn about their backgrounds and passions. Invest genuine time in learning what really matters to them and how you can help," Dinsmore advised. For example, if you email them an article on sarcastically labeled soaps because you enjoy their dry wit on social media, something like that will help you stay on their radar.
7. Treat Them Like Friends
When you're not sure how to interact with a specific contact, imagine if they were your friend. Would you pitch products or push ideas on your friends? Probably not. "No matter whom you’re trying to build a relationship with, treating that person as a friend rather than a business contact will take you much further with the relationship. So, think about how you would approach a potential friend," Entrepreneur suggested. Focus on helping them and making their life easier, and a true connection will follow.
8. Shimmy Your Way Into Their Network
People feel less skeptical of contacts when their own network knows them. So make an effort to connect with those around them to gain more of a reputation. "You automatically arrive with credibility when referred to someone you want to meet by a mutual friend," Dinsmore pointed out. See who they interact with on social media, and build yourself the same network.
9. Send Them A Hello
While sharing information and opportunities with each other is great, throwing someone a simple "hello" can help make it feel like it's not all about business. "People will always appreciate you thinking of them, just as you would appreciate it if you found an unexpected gem in your inbox or a DM wishing you a great week for no other reason than you'd crossed someone's mind," Poinsette-Nash points out. It's as easy as that.
10. Connect Them With Others
Networking is tough for everyone, so if you go out of your way to connect your contacts with others, the effort will be remembered. And hopefully returned later on! "Once you begin to listen to people and learn what they can bring to the table, you’ll start realizing how one person in the room may be able to help another. Make it a point to connect people you feel have something of genuine value to each other," business writer Andrew Vest from Forbes suggested. Even a simple Twitter introduction of "I think XYZ's blog posts are right up your alley! Check her out," can go a long way.
11. Throw Opportunities Their Way
If you want your connections to hook you up with opportunities, start that process by being the first one up to bat. "If you're presented with a fantastic opportunity that simply isn't for you, ask yourself who else you know who might benefit from this and pass it on with no strings attached," Poinsette-Nash suggests. Opportunities should never be squandered, so strengthen your network by giving back to it as much as you hope to get out of it.
In the end, effort is all it takes to make genuine connections. It takes work, but all relationships do!
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