The old saying goes that there are only six degrees of separation that stand between you and anyone else on the planet.

I’ve learned (and LinkedIn has reinforced) that there really are only 2 degrees of separation, you just have to think hard enough and connect the right dots. With all the tools that exist today to help us to do that, there is no reason why this saying shouldn’t be updated to 2 degrees instead of 6.

I was raised as a connector thanks to the example my father set out for me. I find great joy in facilitating valuable introductions for people in my network. But, I’ve also learned that this isn’t always the case for others. Networking can get a bad wrap and more so, most people treat networking as a tool to get them what they want, right now. I encourage you to flip that and think of networking as what you can do to help other people, certain that eventually the goodwill you put out will come back to you.

While I’ve spent years connecting people and hosting events for thousands to do just that, I’ve picked up some tips that might help you wherever you are in your networking journey. Let’s start from the beginning and look forward to more in depth tips in the weeks to come!

First, keep in mind that networking starts with your current contacts. Cultivate and invest in those relationships first. Even if you “don’t need to network”, you do. You never know when you’ll need someone to help connect you (not always professionally). It’s improper to ask someone for help when you’ve not spoken to him/her in ages, but now are doing so simply to ask for something. Therefore, refer back to tip #1 and cultivate your existing relationships now.

I love to think of networking as piecing together a puzzle and encourage you to do the same. What need does someone else have and how can you use your resources to fill that gap? As you begin to set up lunches or meetings with your contacts (new or old), be sure to listen more than you talk. Everyone loves to be heard, so take this opportunity to ask great questions (not just about business). If your contact mentions something big coming up (say a birthday, anniversary, promotion, new home, or travel) make a mental note to follow up and ask how that went or send a nice note their way! It’s the small things like this that make lasting impact and show people that you care.

Lastly, after your meeting, be sure to follow up within 24 hours with an email thanking them for their time. If you have someone to thank for facilitating your meeting, call or email to do so and let them know how the meeting went. It’s encouraging as the connector to know that you made a good match so they can continue to do so in the future. Consider paying it forward and making a valuable introduction for either or both of these contacts based on a need they’ve expressed. Hopefully you’ll begin to see how fun and rewarding it is to become a connector and soon won’t think of it as net”working” anymore.

Stay tuned for upcoming tips on etiquette at networking events and how to stay in touch with your network as you continue to develop it! For now, just remember that networking isn’t a bad word nor is anyone immune from needing a valuable network! Shift your thoughts on networking to a fun puzzle that can bring endless benefits to both you and your contacts.

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