Networking sure has become a dirty word. Thing is: When done right, building your network should feel anything but sleazy. “You get nowhere in life without other people,” says Judy Robinett, author of How to Be a Power Connector. “Everybody knows it’s not what you know, but who you know. And your network is your net worth, plain and simple.” So get over your jitters. You may not morph into a power connector overnight, but employ these quick and easy tips to network like a pro. (The secret? It’s basically the same thing as making friends.)
1. SAY SOMETHING NICE.
Whether you meet someone new at a meeting, networking event, or cocktail party, start with the most basic tenet of human interaction: Be nice. Introduce yourself and shake your new acquaintance's hand. “Research shows that if you’re a stranger, the first thing people look for is a degree of warmth,” Robinett says.
While you might feel like you should cut to the chase, hold back. “I hate elevator pitches. Connect personally instead. Offer a genuine compliment and ask questions," Robinett says. (Why is this person here? What projects is he or she working on? What about passions, hobbies, family, pets?) “Once you get them talking, it’s like pulling the cork out of the bottle,” she adds. “Then you can’t get them to shut up.”
2. FOLLOW UP; SAY THANK YOU.
And mean it. “I make it a rule to follow up within 24 hours of making a connection,” says Robinett. “Keep it short and concise. Get across what a pleasure it was to meet that person, and say ‘let’s stay in touch.’”
If you’re able, offer something of value. Did you chat about a particular trend? Include a link to a worthwhile story you recently read. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking or revelatory. Rather, this small move shows that you’re aware of their needs, too. Robinett cites the policy of Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner: “He says that of 100 people he meets, five are keepers, 20 he doesn’t care to ever see again as long as he lives. And the other 75 are wait-and-see. Do they get back to me? Do they add value?”
3. DON’T BE A ROBOT.
By showing warmth and being genuine, you’re already on the right track. Next, in correspondence, in person, and over the phone, use the person’s name often. On LinkedIn, always personalize the message when you’re connecting with someone; treat those forms as you would an email. And sure, you want to keep it professional, but show some energy for goodness sakes! Don’t just talk about hard numbers or deadlines. Are you excited? Grateful? Anxious to get this thing off the ground? Say so.
4. ENLIST THE RULE OF TWO.
In other words, hand out two favors—or at the very least, be in touch twice—before you request one. “A lot of people think they have to be quick with the ask,” says Robinett. (I see you know x; could you introduce me? I notice you have experience in y; I’d love to hear more.) “But you have to date first. And the best way to do this is to show that you’re not a user.” Keep a running list of people you want to stay in touch with, and shoot each of them a note periodically, just because.
5. INTERACT ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
As you’re building and maintaining your network, don’t overlook the easiest way to keep tabs. And remember, this is a two-way street. Instead of relying on folks to connect you with job leads or investors, consider what you can offer them. Sharing or commenting on a LinkedIn post, retweeting a link or announcement, even liking a photo on Instagram—these are all easy ways to pay it forward.