“I’m not really sure how to network.”
“The idea of networking makes me uncomfortable.”
“I don’t know what value I can offer people so they want to connect with me.”
Do any of those statements sound like something you’d say?
You’re not alone.
Many professionals are struggling with the concept of networking, but it doesn’t have to be difficult (or uncomfortable)!
Social capital is the key to networking at any stage in your career. But what is social capital, why is it so important, and how are you supposed to use it?
By the end of this blog post you will understand the answers to all of those questions so you can build the life-changing network you want and be the super connector everyone in your network turns to.
What is Networking?
Networking is the intentional act of meeting people, usually revolving around professional growth.
You can network to attract new job opportunities, meet like-minded people in your industry, find new suppliers or customers, or just to make new friends.
Why the Idea of Networking Makes Us Uncomfortable
If the idea of networking makes you feel uncomfortable, it might be because you are thinking about meeting someone through the lens of “What can I get from this person?”
It’s not surprising then that you would feel uncomfortable.
Try to imagine yourself in both of these scenarios:
- You see someone at a networking event that you recognize from a great presentation he gave. You want to meet him because you think he would make a great mentor and could really help you. As you’re walking up to him you try to think of what you can say to convince him to be your mentor.
- You see the same person and want him to be your mentor. As you’re walking up to him, you decide to let him know how much value you got from his presentation and offer to send him a polished version of his presentation slides after remembering the comment he made about not being good at building slides.
Which one of those scenarios makes you feel more comfortable? Which scenario do you think is more likely to result in him wanting to connect with you in the future?
Why do we need to network
We need to network because we are social animals. As social animals, we are more likely to default to existing relationships when we need help.
What do I mean?
If you were busy running a business and needed to hire someone to help out, would you be more likely to ask your friends (*cough* network *cough*) if they know anyone with the skillset you’re looking for?
Or would you want to take the time to put an ad online, communicate with candidates independently, sift through resumes, and then schedule interviews with people that you’re not even sure if they’ll show up?
If you’re like me, you would trust the people around you enough to trust their judgement rather than wasting a lot of time interviewing people who might just be overselling themselves and their resumes.
The Three Components of Social Capital
Social capital is the value you can offer someone and is made up of three components: relationships, knowledge/expertise, and emotional support.
The great thing about social capital is that you always have something valuable to offer even if it’s just a word of encouragement.
Meeting people can be awkward and time consuming.
If you can save people that trouble by making introductions between two individuals who hit it off professionally, romantically, or become good friends, they will remember you and sing your praises.
Start taking inventory of your social capital by making a list of your relationships, professional and personal.
Then take some time and think about the value each person has to offer. This can be as simple as your accountant friend being able to offer accounting services, but everyone has something, it’s just a matter of how well you know the people in your life.
Then take some time to identify what each person needs.
If you can’t think of anything they need, use it as an excuse to reach out to them and find out. Maybe you have one friend who is thinking about replacing the cabinets in her home and another friend who is an amazing carpenter.
Lastly, each time you meet someone new, make it a point to find out what value they have to offer as well as anything they might need.
Keep adding to your list, reviewing it, and reaching out to make introductions. You never know what a simple introduction will lead to, for those you’re introducing as well as yourself.
Knowledge / Expertise
When most people think about the value they can offer someone, this is usually what comes to mind.
While this might seem obvious, there’s more to it than just the knowledge you’ve acquired in school or your career.
If you’re an attorney who has invested years into weightlifting, tending to his vegetable garden, and hosting a dinner party every week, then you possess expertise in several areas. You can give tips and answer questions about working out and nutrition. You can provide guidance to someone who wants to start a garden or is having trouble with a garden. You can help someone who wants to host dinner parties or learn how to cook.
Make a list of areas of your life you feel knowledgeable in. You don’t have to be a recognized expert, but you should at least be knowledgeable enough to maintain a solid conversation about these topics.
This might be the most surprising component.
How can I offer emotional support to someone I don’t know or just met?
Let’s say you are attending a big conference next weekend. If there is a speaker you’re looking forward to meeting, find that person on LinkedIn. Connect with them and send an accompanying encouraging message such as, “Looking forward to your talk this weekend! I’ll be cheering you on from the front row!”
Imagine how you would feel if you received that type of support a few days before you were supposed to go on stage in front of a crowd of people and talk about something you care deeply about. Chances are, you wouldn’t just feel good but you would also remember that person when they introduced themselves after your talk.
You can also:
- offer emotional support by providing feedback to others, whether it’s positive or constructive criticism
- message attendees ahead of time letting them know you’re looking forward to meeting them
- set up a pre-event meeting like a dinner, show, or hike
- have a question ready at the end of a talk because speakers dread ending their talk without anyone asking questions
- follow up with everyone you meet and include a reference to something you talked about when you met so they have a reference point to remember you
Supporting other speakers and attendees helps you build your network and strengthen your relationships with them so they are more likely to help you in the future.
In a Nutshell
If you feel “dirty” about the idea of networking, that’s ok.
Unfortunately, we’re taught the goal of networking is to get what we want, and approaching a potential connection with that mindset can make us feel manipulative or deceptive.
It’s no surprise then that many of us feel uncomfortable about networking.
But successful networkers know that networking is about the value you can give to others, not the value you can take.
Once you have established a line of communication with someone new and provided them with value at least three or four times, then it’s acceptable to make a request if they have not already reciprocated.
So, if you want to know what value you have to offer someone you’ve just met, remember the three components of social capital:
- Your personal and professional relationships
- Knowledge/expertise you possess inside and outside your field/industry
- The emotional support you can offer to people you know or want to meet
All of us have social capital in one form or another, it’s just a matter of taking inventory of how much you have in each form.
If you take what you’ve learned in this article and apply it before, during, and after your next networking opportunity, comment below and let me know what you learned from the process!
If you want the confidence to build a life on your terms and pursue your wildest dreams without hesitation, we’re here for you. We can help you make this happen by providing expert coaching in our X-Factor Accelerator mentorship program. You’ll have the control and rock solid belief in yourself you need to seize opportunities in your career, influence winning outcomes, and live life on your own terms.