coffee cupsStale canapés, warm wine, not enough hands to do everything and a business card swapfest… Is that your impression of networking?

Or maybe it’s the recurring nightmare you have, of walking into a room, where everyone turns and looks at you, and you shrink into the corner thinking “please don’t let me have to talk about myself to these people!”

In my experience, networking is right up there with public speaking in terms of striking fear into the heart of most people I work with.

Here’s the bad news.

For most professionals, networking is CRUCIAL for your career development and future progress.

Now here’s the good news.

You already have a network and a few simple steps will ensure you develop and nurture that network easily, effortlessly, and in an authentic way that suits you, and your personality style.

But Why Do I Have to Network?

As I said, networking is crucial to your career development, and, I would argue, your career success.

Need some proof? Here are just some of the outcomes you can expect to receive through building and nurturing your network:

  1. Discover new job opportunities: Did you know that around 70% of new roles are never advertised? That means they are sourced either through internal applicants or through personal network referrals. In a tight job market, if moving company or role is necessary for your advancement, you are potentially missing out on a huge portion of opportunities.
  2. In most professions, it’s no longer enough just to be great at the technical aspects of your job:  You need to be an “all-rounder”, that is you must have strong technical skills AND people management AND client development skills (if applicable). Networking is a way of enhancing your people skills and meeting contacts that may become client contacts in the future.
  3. Enhance your confidence and presentation skills: Meeting new people is a perfect way to practice your presentation skills. And developing strong relationships is integral to a healthy mental state of mind, and gives you confidence in that you feel a sense of belonging and well-being.
  4. Make future contacts for business ventures and expand your horizons into different industries:  Our career paths are becoming far less linear these days, with many people finding themselves reinventing their career 2 or even more times.
  5. Build your profile in your industry and beyond: In a noisy world with many people vying for attention, having a strong professional profile (internally and externally) is key to your success.
  6. Networking provides us with personal and professional growth, which is essential for our career and personal wellbeing.
  7. Networking can be fun when you know what you are doing and you never know who you might meet.

What is networking really about, anyway?

It’s simple really – networking is the act of forming and developing relationships. Making it more complicated than that is one the reasons many people find it scary.

So, keep it simple – give it a different word if you need to.

Create your own definition of what networking means to you.

How do I get started?

Like anything in life, the sooner you get started, the better.

If you are just starting out in your chosen career, you already have a great network of university and school buddies. Make sure you join the alumni groups and make an effort to keep in touch.

And it’s never too late in your career to start networking.

The best way to start if you feel daunted is to do the following:

  • Write down a list of everyone you know. School, university, friends, ex-colleagues, neighbours, sporting group contacts, clients, etc. EVERYONE
  • Use linkedin as an ideal way to connect and stay in touch with these people. It’s an amazing tool and it astounds me when professionals tell me “I’m not on LinkedIn.” Really?
  • Understand what outcome you want from engaging with your network. Are you looking for a mentor, career opportunities, new client opportunities? Always have an outcome in mind.
  • Create a Networking Plan. Once you know your outcomes, make a plan to get you to those outcomes. If you are in the job market, one of your goals for the next 90 days might be to get connected with hiring managers at companies you are interested in. Use your existing network (and LinkedIn) to make those connections.
  • Break your Networking Plan into manageable weekly and daily actions. It’s easy when you are busy for networking to be pushed to the side. You must prioritise it. Put dates in your diary, write daily actions and DO them.
  • Find a style that works for you. If cocktail parties aren’t your thing, do one to one networking over coffee. Or suggest a lunchtime walk or run. I know one legal partner who did all his business development by running around the Botanic Gardens in Sydney with his contacts and friends. Get on a bike. Join a singing or acting class. Do something outside of your industry that interests you and will open you up to new people and groups.
  • Be consistent. Be consistent. Be consistent. (Yes, it’s worth mentioning three times!)
  • Finally, always add value. Approach your networking from a space of always wanting to give as well as receive. That will make you a valuable, and, importantly, trusted contact.

What to do now?

Something. Anything. Just one thing.

The key is, just get started.

Here are some suggestions:

  • If you don’t know who is in your network, write the list of everyone you know.
  • If you do know, choose three people to re-connect with, and call them to get a coffee date in the diary.
  • Look up local industry events and see what’s coming up that you are interested in.
  • If you specialise in a particular area, find events in that industry, eg if you’re a workplace relations lawyer, find HR-related events.
  • Find someone who is a great networker, and ask them what they do, and maybe even to take you along to an event.

If you need more help, I am shortly about to publish an ebook on this very topic. If you’d like a copy simply email me at fiona@fionacraig.com.au.

This blog is adapted from an article originally published on The Law Society of NSW Career Hub. You can view the original article here.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can take ownership of your career to allow you to create a career you love, be rewarded for what you do and take control of your future, you might want to join me for a LIVE and FREE workshop, where I’ll show you exactly how to do just that. Click here to find out more.