If you ask me, “expand your network” is the one answer that applies to most questions regarding career success. Why? Because as social beings we base our decisions on emotions. So, people tend to offer opportunities to those in their networks that they know and trust. Consequently, the faster you expand yours the faster you you’ll fulfill your objectives.
This is true whether you want a promotion, find a new job, get paid more for your current position, change careers, launch an innovative product, and for tons of other situations related to your career growth. So let’s get started.
Expand your network effortlessly
It’s a fact that many women have little or no time for networking for business. They are overstretched with a full workload, family life and personal interests. I’m not here to propose that you somehow carve some additional time to expand your network. No. What I’m going to suggest is that you network strategically and learn to make the most of every opportunity you have to create and solidify your relationships. Think about it like reading a book while on the treadmill. Are you taking extra time to sit and read? No, but you are enjoying your book while getting your workout done
1Follow your love
Last year, I walked into Tatyana, a clothing store in Lower Manhattan with designs inspired in the Pin-up girls of 1940s and 50s. I fell in love with a shoe line they carried and immediately looked it up when I got home. The shoe company was Lola Ramona, a Danish brand with a girly personality and sense of humor. I read all about the company and the brand. It aligned so well with the philosophy of the Red Shoe Movement…. I ordered a pair of shoes and then connected with the company’s CEO on Linkedin. I sent her a note where I shared my love for her shoe line and suggested that perhaps we could do something together.
A few days later Gitte Sandquist and I had a Skype call. What happened was like magic. We clicked right away and decided to partner together. And we’ve been doing some amazing things since that call almost a year ago. We finally met in person a few weeks ago and had our first joint event in Copenhagen. This is what I mean when I say “follow your love” to expand your network. Lola Ramona’s shoes spoke to me. Their mix of femininity, boldness and whimsy reflected my inner red shoe. I don’t think about this as networking for business or spending time outside my normal activities.
This is not the first time that I follow my gut and pursue an idea that may sound crazy to others. That I contact someone out of the blue to suggest that we explore doing something together. And seven or eight times out of ten I get great results. So why not take the chance?
A few situations where you should approach people to expand your network using this rule include:
- You hear someone present at a conference whose message resonates with you.
- You identify a leader in your organization that you admire.
- You read about someone doing something you’d like to do but don’t know how.
- You are inspired by a Ted talk and realize you can help expand the idea presented by the speaker.
- You are intrigued by some new research or article you read.
2Wherever two people eat, three people eat
Granted, this sentence may make no sense to you. It’s an almost literal translation of a popular Spanish saying used in my home when I was growing up. (Donde comen dos, comen tres.) The message was that whenever someone unexpected dropped for a meal, there was always enough food to share with that person. I offer this saying to you as an invitation to expand your network through a generosity of spirit.
If you plan on having lunch with one person from the office, deliberately think who else you could invite to join you. Who would you like to get to know a little bit better? Who is doing something interesting, different? Who could you help feel more welcomed in your organization? Make it a rule that you eat with at least three people twice a week and you’ll see how your network expands effortlessly.
3Time well your comings and goings
Most people have a routine. They come around the same time, take breaks and lunch about the same time and if they use the gym facilities at the office, they also tend to do it on a certain schedule. So why not time your routine to coincide with people you’d like to get to know better? Nobody said that networking implies spending one hour with someone over drinks. That’s nice, and you can develop good, lasting relationships when people put their guards down.
But brief, inane chitchat is the very basis of human connection. Things like cheer each other during a challenging exercise routine or laughing under a shared umbrella can be as bonding. So, don’t go on the elevator alone and most definitely, don’t sit at lunch by yourself if there are tables occupied by other people. Always choose the most crowded table at your company’s cafeteria to set down your lunch.
I know you think you have so much to do and so little time. But guess what? Working hard is only the first step to get to the next level. So first, breathe. Remember that networking is an integral part of any job description. (Even when it’s the unwritten part.) The better you know your colleagues, the better you work with them. Now, leave that pile of work on your desk and take your coffee cup to the next- door cubicle. Ask your neighbor about their day, their family, their new yoga practice. Show genuine interest on the people you work with, and with those you would like to work with. Because to obtain greater opportunities you must expand your network way beyond your current colleagues and bosses.
5Resurrect the old art of a face to face conversation
Call me old-fashion but nothing beats a face-to-face conversation for cementing relationships. Forget email, texting or Whatsapping. Emoticons aside, nothing comes even close. Not even the avatar that looks like you. (And I have one of those!)
If you want to seriously increase your contact base, find occasions to meet in person to discuss projects you’re working on together. Even when these issues could be resolved via email, make a decision to see the person for ten minutes. You’ll be surprised how productive a ten minute in-person meeting can be and how many more ideas you both come up with.
I mentioned earlier that magic happened when Gitte of Lola Ramona and I met on Skype that first time. But you know what? A lot more magic happened when we met in person and spent a few hours over several days understanding each other’s motivations, individual purposes and business goals. I’m going to make a wild guess and predict the same will happen to you if you take the time to turn an email exchange into a face-to-face encounter.
All the secrets in the world to expand your network won’t make a difference to you if you keep thinking networking is something you do above and beyond living and working. Networking is how you live and work. Do you do it alone? Or do you build relationships along the way?
And if you’re really ready to expand your network, consider signing up for the Step Up Program where a community of women help each other succeed professionally!