How to network without “networking”

Some people love networking.

I’ve never met them, of course (maybe I would if I went to more networking events), but I have to believe they exist. They keep adding me to their damn mass email lists, after all.

Then, there are the rest of us. Most people I know would rather do pretty much anything — including but not limited to cleaning the bathroom, brushing our cats’ teeth and going to the DMV — than attend a networking event. The very phrase is enough to send even the most gregarious extroverts running for the refuge of a night in with Netflix.

And yet, there is the inconvenient and inescapable truth that cultivating a strong network is one of the best possible things we can do to build our careers, businesses and overall life prospects.

How to network without “networking”

We tend to associate networking with crowded drink lines and awkward name tags, but there’s a better way to go about it.

You can build a strong network without ever attending a networking event.

That’s the good news. The more challenging (I hesitate to call it “bad”) news is that you still have to put yourself out there.

But stay with me. There is a way to fill your network with interesting, like-minded people, help and be helped by others and maybe (just maybe) even enjoy the process of getting to know new people.

It’s actually quite simple.

  1. Make a point of seeking out people you want to know.

  2. Humbly and sincerely ask if they’ll connect with you.

That’s it. It can be as small as a request to connect on LinkedIn or as bold as an offer to buy lunch. That part’s up to you.

Of course, it’s also good form to offer help without being asked, support and share their work where relevant and build a relationship before making any big requests, but that all comes later.

My (sort of) New Year’s resolution: Connect with 1 new person every week in 2018.

So what does this look like in practice? Well, it just so happens that my New Year’s resolution (sort of… I got the idea two weeks ago so it’s kind of a resolution by default) is to connect with 1 new, like-minded person every week for the duration of 2018.

But because I dislike New Year’s resolutions and love to subvert the dominant paradigm, I started early, so here’s an example from the last week of 2017.

By total happenstance, I came across a fabulous writer on Medium and thought, there’s a like-minded person I would like to connect with. I checked out her website but couldn’t find an email or a LinkedIn profile, so I sent her (I kid you not) a private message on Facebook that essentially said:

I found you on Medium and loved your writing. I’m reaching out because I’ve set myself a goal of connecting with one interesting/provocative/like-minded/rule-breaking person per week for the entirety of the next year, just to see what happens. Maybe if I meet enough of them, we can all accomplish something useful. I have nothing to ask of you, other than perhaps a short response in acknowledgment if you’re so inclined.

Robin (aka some random person you’ve never met before in your life)

And guess what happened? She wrote me back, thanked me and… drumroll please… now we’re Facebook friends!

Of course, one single digital connection is unlikely to make a material difference (or is it?). But 52 connections over the course of a year? 52 people who can potentially introduce me to new clients, 52 people with whom I can exchange cool ideas, 52 people who I can hopefully help out in return?

That’s something even this self-professed loather of networking can get excited about.

P.S. If you’re reading this article and kinda dig what I have to say, it would literally make my week if you reached out to become one of my 52. LinkedIn is easiest.