Have you ever heard the saying “your network is your net worth”?
As business professionals and business owners, we hear about the benefits of networking all the time.
But if you’re anything like me (an introvert), your belly probably turns into knots at the thought of introducing yourself to powerful people in your industry.
I used to get so nervous at networking events that I would get lightheaded and feel like passing out.
But over time, I developed a process to push myself and improve my networking skills. That single improvement led to so many new opportunities that I couldn’t keep track of them. It completely revolutionized my business life!
If you want to learn how to take your networking skills to the next level, keep reading.
What is Networking?
Networking is the process of establishing and nurturing professional relationships with others in your field or industry. It revolves around interacting with peers, mentors, and potential collaborators or clients to exchange information, advice, and resources.
Despite the common misconception, networking isn’t about immediate gains but cultivating mutually beneficial connections over time. For introverts, networking can be scary, but with the right approach, it can become a manageable and rewarding process.
Why is Networking Important?
Networking is like rocket fuel for your professional career. Business is all about making connections. Whether you need employees, mentors, suppliers, or customers, every successful business is made up of a network of people.
The ability to meet new people, make a good first impression, and engage in mutually beneficial relationships is the single most important business skill you can develop.
Think about some of the most legendary networking examples in the business world – Elon Musk cold calling bank execs in university which eventually led to employment and his foray into the financial world and a $307 million exit.
Another example is Steve Jobs’ ability to network across multiple industries. Many people attribute the success of the iPhone to Jobs “working the phones” and contacting industry players that could contribute.
In my personal experience as a marketer and business professional, the ability to network has multiplied my learning and access to novel ideas and opportunities.
Whatever field you’re in, networking opens doors and exposes you to people who can help you become successful.
5-Step Process to Improve Your Networking Skills
Now that we’ve covered how important networking is in any industry, let’s take a look at the proven 5-step process to get out of your shell and start building your professional network.
1. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
The first step in improving your network skills is to get out of your comfort zone!
This step is the most important and cannot be overlooked. You can read all the techniques you want on the internet about how to meet people but you will only get good at it by doing it.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, meeting new people is intimidating. If you’re an introvert and want networking to be easy and stress-free, you are in for a rude surprise. You will have to push yourself to do things that you don’t want to do and expose yourself to embarrassment.
I recommend starting off with a commitment to talk to new people every single day. Yes, this means walking outside and taking the initiative to strike up a conversation. If this step is too hard, break it down into smaller steps:
- look people in the eye as you pass by
- say hi and nod
- start to ask how people’s day is going
- give compliments
If you do this every single day for 30 days, I promise you that your social anxiety will melt away and you will start to feel more connected to any social environment.
2. Rehearse your elevator pitch
An elevator pitch is a concise way to sum up who you are, what you do, and how you can help – imagine you have a 30-second elevator ride to get your point across. In networking, people are always looking to find out what you can do for them or for others so you want to make sure you convey this information immediately.
Your elevator pitch is kind of like the tagline in an advertising jingle that sticks in your mind as you go about your business. Oftentimes, you’ll only have a few minutes to make an impression so you want to make it memorable.
Here are the key points for a good elevator pitch:
- Make it snappy
- Make it intriguing
- Include a clear value proposition
Here’s an example that you can rip off or take as inspiration for yourself:
” My name is Matt Nawrot, I help people turn their online businesses into success stories. I specialize in developing strategies that establish a strong digital presence and drive business growth. I’m not one of those post-and-pray people, more of a numbers and conversions specialist, so I’m the guy you call if you want to take your online marketing to the next level.”
Notice how I elaborate on my skillset and throw in a catchy saying like “post-and-pray”? This gives people an anchor to latch onto as they think back later.
Come up with your own elevator pitch, practice it at home, and have it ready to toss out when people ask you “So what do you do?”
3. Practice Good Body Language
The impression you leave on others depends 20% on what you say and 80% on how you say it. Good body language will instill confidence into your conversations and supercharge your networking ability.
Like anything else, you have to practice to get good at it. Here are a few pointers that you can start implementing immediately:
- Stand up straight with your shoulders back
- Face directly at the person that you are talking to
- Open up the front of your body
- Keep your hands comfortably at your sides
- Don’t put your hands in your pockets for long periods
- Relax your face and smile
- Open up your mouth when you speak
- Have a firm handshake
As I mentioned before, it’s often not enough to just read about having good body language – you have to practice it to get good. But over time, if you implement a few of these techniques, you’ll start to develop an unshakable presence that will make you a pleasure to converse with.
4. Attend Events
Once you’ve shucked off your shyness, you have a solid elevator pitch ready to go, and you have some body language basics to practice, it’s time to get out there and network!
The pertinent question here is “Where can I meet people?”
In reality, you can meet people pretty much anywhere, but you’ll make the best contacts by going to professional events. Many professional events are “invite only” or have a fee to attend. This can be frustrating if you are just starting out and if you don’t have any cash. But think of it as a good thing – by placing a barrier to entry, there will be a higher concentration of powerful and influential people.
Once you’re able to get into these events, you will be able to meet tons of valuable additions to your network in quick succession.
My advice is to be open-minded and try to show up to events when you do get the invite – don’t pass up opportunities when they come up!
If you’re just starting out, you can find lower-tier professional events in your local area online.
Here are a few places you can find good events to attend:
- Facebook groups
- Google Events
I have personally met tons of high-value people randomly at professional events with this method. Once I started meeting people at general get-togethers, I started to become aware of more and started to get invites to private functions!
NOTE: I sometimes get questions about how to network in a small town. While small towns are often tight-knit and overall more approachable, big cities give more of an opportunity to thrive. Therefore, if you want to build a thriving network, I recommend moving to a city or at least live close enough to drive in. This doesn’t have to be permanent, but you should be willing to make accommodations to build the professional life you want.
Always Follow Up
If you’ve done a networking event properly, you should have a stack of business cards, some phone numbers, and a bunch of social media connections.
This is where most people mess up.
If you don’t follow up with your new contacts, you might as well have stayed home. All of your new connections will move on with their lives and forget you even met.
At a minimum, take the extra effort to send a follow-up message and express your gratitude for meeting their acquaintance.
Here is a simple message that you can send out:
“Hey [name], it was great meeting you tonight, excited to see how “X” turns out, let’s keep in touch.”
By showing interest in your contact’s projects, you stand out in their mind as a genuine connection. Even if nothing comes of it, it only takes a little extra effort to anchor the connection and keep the conversation going.
Over time, some of these contacts will make an effort to engage with you. With consistent effort, you will establish some consistent communication with people that can impact your business life profoundly.
Key Considerations For Building a Network
Here are a few key considerations to take your networking to the next level:
Push Yourself to Socialize More
Like anything worth doing in life, networking and socializing takes effort and dedication. The more you do it, the better you will get.
The best advice I have for getting really good fast is to push yourself into new and uncomfortable situations.
You will never feel “ready”, or supremely confident to show up to a networking event, so don’;t wait around for the confidence to come.
Instead, prepare, take a deep breath, and get out there. You will learn as you go and start to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
Say Yes to Opportunities to Meet New People
As I already mentioned, the best networking opportunities are usually at closed events that are expensive or “invite only”. You won’t be able to get into these events at first, but as you meet more people, you will start to get some invites.
My advice is to take the opportunity to attend even if it’s inconvenient. You might have to attend 10 free and low-tier networking events to get your foot in the door at a prestigious one. That one event could give you access to thousands or millions of dollars worth of business connections.
Don’t waste all the momentum that you’ve built by staying home. Seize the day!
Look to Provide Value to Others First
Have you ever noticed what business leaders say when they answer the phone someone walks into their office?
“What can I do for you?”
The game of networking is to convey value to other people. This means that you have to develop a valuable skillset or acquire valuable assets. Then you have to convey that value to others so that they will reciprocate.
High-value businesspeople understand this game very well. That’s why they always ask “What can I do for you?” before stating “Here’s what you can do for me.”
When you start out, you probably won’t have a valuable skillset or valuable assets, but there are some things you can offer to the social situation:
- Showing interest
- Active Listening
- Being professional
- Introducing people to other people
- Giving genuine compliments
- giving book recommendations
You want people to experience you as a giver rather than a taker. They will get a warm feeling in your presence and be far more open to doing business with you.
Wrapping Up and My Experience With Networking
Networking is a challenging and intimidating part of business. It used to terrify me. I used to show up at networking events as a university student – talking to fully grown established business people as a young 20-something was downright awkward.
But as I started to go out more, I began to see the compounding effects of networking. Job opportunities, and informational interviews with industry experts, mentors, and even employees started to come into my life more and more gradually.
I can honestly say that if I hadn’t developed the skill of networking when I was younger, I wouldn’t be nearly as far as I am now in my professional career.
If you’re introverted, join the club. I know the challenges of “putting yourself out there.” It is scary and hard. But that is what makes it rewarding.
Follow the process laid out in this article and you will be well on your way to building a powerful network that will blast your life and your income into the stratosphere.