KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
You have to identify what you want from these connections, so the people you reach out to know how to help you. "Do you have a job for me as a retail store sales manager?" is a much better question than, "Do you have a job for me?" "I'm starting a business and need a lawyer to complete my LLC paperwork" is much better than, "I'm starting a business and need help."
There has to be a purpose to your request to connect. The more specific you are about what you need, the better; otherwise, you're just wasting people's time, and if you don't get the help you need, you risk wasting your time as well. It's okay to not know what you don't know, but it's not okay to ask people for help without having some idea of the actual ask.
EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS
Many of us have relied on industry trade shows or conferences for the majority of our networking activities over the years. However, there may be smaller events or groups in your city you should consider adding to your list, as well as resources to help you launch or grow your business.
For example, consider checking out local Business Network International (BNI) meetings, Chambers of Commerce, or the Service Corps of Retired Executives (or SCORE Association). The Small Business Administration has a variety of resources available as well. Each of these should be thoroughly researched prior to investing a dime in business cards or office space.
Sometimes, our best connections are found in the most interesting places. Grocery stores, doctor's offices, and the gym are good places to practice your ability to make small talk, so don't pass up these opportunities. You may not find your next COO pumping iron, but these daily interactions keep your socialization muscles strong. While it can be difficult to put your phone away and strike up conversations, it is vitally important if you want to meet people who may one day play a part in helping you to achieve your goals.
DIVE INTO DIGITAL CONNECTIONS
Utilizing social media platforms, such as LinkedIn(TM), is vital to establishing and expanding your network. Now more than ever, these virtual connections are enabling us to continue to grow our businesses. Just as your first impression is key at a face-to-face meeting, so is the case online.
If you are not on LinkedIn, I urge you to join as soon as possible. This platform contains a wealth of information, as well as resources to help you find your next client or showcase your industry expertise.
To begin, ensure your profile is accurate and complete. Provide a great headshot and up-to-date information in all relevant sections, such as any volunteer work, awards, or other notable accomplishments. Seek out recommendations from former colleagues, clients, or business partners. Ensure you are well endorsed for your primary skills.
Next, spend some time—and I do mean a fair amount of time— connecting to people you know. Join applicable groups and follow companies, causes, and people that are in your industry or for which you have an interest. In short, make your LinkedIn profile as robust as possible so that when people view it, they get a clear and comprehensive picture of who you are. If you're not particularly tech-savvy, hire someone to assist you. It will be money and time well spent to build your connections.
Once your profile is finalized and ready for prime time, make your voice known by posting meaningful content. This is not the place for pictures of your pets. It is a place to share information with your followers that you think they will find interesting and relevant. By posting regularly, as well as engaging with your connections, people will see you in their feeds and want to connect with you to get to know you better. It's a win-win for everyone.
Just like in-person networking is a give-and-take, so is virtual networking. Be sure to like, share, and comment on posts from your network. They'll appreciate the attention and pay it back to you. Spending 30 minutes each week on LinkedIn will pay dividends that can't be measured.
BECOME A THOUGHT LEADER
In addition to posting regular updates, if you are an excellent writer (or you can afford to hire one), periodically author articles on LinkedIn. Whether they address topics you are passionate about or simply offer insights into your industry, these articles will establish you as a thought leader. I encourage my team to post regularly, and their articles have led to new connections, as well as higher engagement on their profiles.
Establishing and growing a viable network both offline and digitally takes commitment. It also requires patience, as not every connection is going to turn into new business. In fact, it's better for your expectations to be lower to avoid frustration and disappointment. Focus on the process of building the relationship rather than gaining the signed contract.
***** TABLE OF CONTENTS *****
1. Be Connected
2. Be Teachable
3. Be Fearless
4. Be People-Centric
5. Be Future-Driven
6. Be Purposeful
7. Be Engaging
8. Be Profitable
9. Be Service-Oriented
10. Be Efficient
11. Be Generous
12. Be Inspiring
13. Be Better