How do you start to build a network when you’re just starting out or new (to a place or industry, for example)?
Before taking any action, be sure you’re up-to-speed on the basic protocol.
Next, consider what your goals are. Are you looking to connect with certain types people? Such as:
-A specific industry
-Certain titles or designations
-Same life stage (or more or less seasoned)?
Then get clear on why you want to connect with them.
Now that you know the who, what, and why, let’s figure out the where and how you want to grow your network. Here are the four phases you can consider to take the first steps to grow the depth and breadth of your network.
Phase 1: Begin where you are, with what you already possess
No matter your age or current situation, you already have a network: your current or former classmates, previous co-workers, family, childhood friends, and so on.
It’s always a good idea to start growing where you’ve already planted and cultivated relationships. Go to those who already know, like, and trust you and ask them if they can connect you to whomever it is you’re looking to meet (friends in your new city, people in a certain field, etc).
Leverage social media and the contacts you have stored in your phone to help spur your memory and set up calls (by voice or video) or in-person meetings to catch up. Emails can work too, depending on the circumstances.
Phase 2: Spread your net wide with local organizations
The next step is to determine what type of organizations interest you (those for startup founders, business-to-business professionals, career changers, work-from-home parents, expatriates, etc) and create a list of all of them.
Join their newsletters. Attend a few of their events to see which resonate with you, and decide where you would like to invest more time and energy.
When you choose, go deep there. Volunteer, take a leadership role, have one-on-one meetings with people you meet, and see how you can grow a reputation as someone to know in that community by being someone of service, who offers value, and follows through.
Phase 3: Grassroots one-on-one networking
Connect with your existing contacts who are involved in the areas where you are interested in getting more involved. Ask them whom in the community would be good for you to know, and ask if they would mind making an introduction.
In each of those meetings, if you and your new contact hit it off, ask if there is another person whom they’d suggest you know. Be specific to help them narrow it down.
For example, you could say, “I’m looking to meet others who have made a career change from finance to tech,” or, “Do you know anyone in wealth management with whom I could speak?” Best to extrapolate further and give them a one sentence why for your intentions in asking for the meeting.
In any instance where your contact connects you with someone, be sure to follow up after you’ve met or spoken to thank the introducer, as well as give him or her a quick digest on what transpired.
You can also use LinkedIn and Facebook to see who is connected to specific contacts you’d like to meet, and ask for an introduction.
Phase 4: Consider national organizations
As you talk to people in phases one through three, ask if there are any national organizations that would be beneficial for you to join. As with phase two, get involved with them and see which are a fit for you. Set a goal to attend X number of pertinent conferences, workshops, seminars, or retreats.
By going through these phases, you’ll begin to reflect back and see how much
your network has grown. As a byproduct, you’ll be able to pay-it-forward to others
who are growing their networks, and make valuable introductions to individuals
and organizations where you see mutual value.
Additionally, you can then assess where you want to continue to invest your time.
I’m a proponent of spreading the net wide initially, and then narrowing down to a small handful of organizations where you can invest your energy more deeply.