By Kathleen Lewis
Everybody’s networking. There are professional networks and social networks and networks for the livestock trade and for psychics. There are networks for stay at home moms and networks for stay at home schooling. There are networks dedicated to networking.
The pressure to network is palpable because everybody knows that to succeed you need to network. This is especially true if you measure success by the number of people in your network. And so we have reached the post-modern network — we’re networking for the sake of networking.
Will You Be My Friend?
Networking is such an entrenched dogma now that only the foolhardy would take a contrary position. I’m not against networking in principle, but there’s good networking, like maintaining positive relationships with former clients and colleagues, and then there’s just harassing people. The philosophy grounded in the truth that you never know who may be of use to you ignores the point that you also don’t know who might be a net waste of energy or may find your overtures annoying.
If you’re mining your yearbook for potential clients you’re doing what I would describe as “bad” networking. The key to “good” networking is targeting your energies in a dignified manner toward those who are at least somewhat related to your industry.
Who Are Legitimate Networking Contacts?
1. Current and former employers are obviously at the top of the list.
These aren’t only great contacts for the obvious reason that they once gave you money to do what you do, but because you don’t have to pretend that you care about their kids or cats. You can be upfront and say “hey, got any work you can swing my way?” not even remotely out of context. Here’s a tip: stay on top of what they’re up to. Read their web site occasionally and subscribe to their Twitter or Facebook accounts and be absolutely shameless about your opportunism.
2. LinkedIn is the networking champion with some 175 million members.
I’m not putting LinkedIn at number two because it’s so effective, but because it’s so easy. After limiting your networking energies to those of value, is limiting your networking energies altogether and LinkedIn does an eerily good job of stalking your contacts on your behalf. I have two LinkedIn tips. 1. Accept all invitations and 2. Don’t get too hung up on LinkedIn. Certainly don’t buy any of their subscription packages. Having said that make sure to keep your LinkedIn profile up to date.
3. The needy.
Networking is a two way street (in fact it’s more like a multi-lane highway with poorly marked off-ramps) and networking karma is a real thing. You can help current and former colleagues, people you took classes with and those who, like you, are making their living both at home and online. This last group exemplifies the point — to meet a deadline you might genuinely need some help and, more importantly, so might they. The tip here is a tough one: be selfless. When work comes your way it’s very tempting to hoard but if you spread the wealth discriminately it’ll come back to you.
You regularly use a copy shop or an art supply store or a guy who fixes your printer. Well so do a lot of other people in your industry. These people are plugged in and it’s in their interest to act as matchmaker. Make sure that they know what you do and don’t be coy about asking them to keep you in mind. The tip here is: refer to the previous point. Your suppliers need to network too and you can enhance your reputation with them for free by referring them to people in your network.
Networking isn't always an easy task, especially if you're a bit on the shy side. It's sometimes hard to muster up the courage to talk to a complete stranger about your business. But I urge you to try. The more people and business associates you have in your pocket the better your chances at acquiring new clients. Don't loose sight on the real purpose of networking: forming relationships in which all parties win.
Kathleen Lewis is the founder and owner of EWomanWeb.com, a trusted resource dedicated to providing online jobs from home. She understands the trials and tribulations of working from home, and encourages others to act upon their desire to be their own boss.