How many times have we heard, “It’s all about who you know?” Too many.
Networking is that often dreaded “To Do” because we recognize our need to rely on others for help. Our independence can take us only so far. At some point, we need people who will share our work and vouch for our abilities. This requires a fair amount of humility and time to build trust, but we often rush the process.
The traditional style of networking seems to require engaging in yawn-worthy small talk, forcing false smiles, and asking “so, what do you do?” And all at lightning speed without ever getting to know the other.
Schmooze or you lose, right?
Well, not exactly. There is a genuine networking style that doesn’t require you to hustle faster and louder in order to break through the noise of other people’s frenetic schedules, endless emails, and Instagram addictions.
It’s called friendship. Because of the changing work landscape, our personal and professional lives are growing more integrated. Guided by research on wellness in the workplace and intentional living, many of us are learning to manage ourselves smarter and streamline our schedules. We’ve reached a point where networking is not always about passing out more business cards, going to more events, and scheduling more coffee dates.
Friendship-based networking is less about expanding and more about deepening our current relationship inventory. When you genuinely get to know another person by learning their interests, you naturally want to support them in their hopes and dreams. This style of networking is more fruitful in the long run because friends have our interests at heart and can connect us with more meaningful opportunities.
So, with friendship front and center, here are some ideas to take your networking to the next level:
Consistently meet up.
Find or start a group that can encourage you professionally. Consistency is important here. I joined a lady’s mastermind group for freelancers and entrepreneurs that meets monthly. We talk about challenges in our work and banter about resources and solutions to help each other move forward. Getting to know these women each month is helpful because it gives me a chance to build history and trust among the group. This way, I don’t feel like an island when it comes to promoting projects or asking advice for a lead to a new opportunity.
Friendship-based networking is less about expanding and more about deepening our current relationship inventory.
See a photo or post about someone’s travels or personal project on social? Send over a quick message and thoughtfully comment about it. Making brief, genuine connections can go a long way to keeping a relationship fresh and moving forward.
Host a happy hour.
Instead of going out, why not try hosting your own happy hour during the week? Have others invite their colleagues. Keep it simple. Provide a few snacks, pour up some gin n’ tonics, and turn on your favorite Spotify playlist. Bringing the happy hour to your place gives you a chance to mingle and meet new people in a homey but professional kind of way.
Build an address book.
I’ve started creating a digital address book on Postable. This way, I can easily send thank you notes, holiday cards, or the occasional postcard to bring a personal touch to my relationships.
Invite to an event.
Take some time to research free or low-cost events in your area that can help you grow professionally and personally. Jazz concert in the park? An educational talk on prison reform? Art gallery opening? This can take a bit of researching and some savvy match-making, but use these events as a chance to invite someone into your world of interest.
While friendship is a healthy building block for cultivating professional relationships, we should always be mindful of never “using friends” to get ahead. What’s the difference? Authentic friendships are rooted in a genuine desire for one another to reach their ultimate potential. This doesn’t mean you always have to provide a job lead to feel valued. It can also simply be asking about family or being available to bounce ideas around.
On the other hand, “using friends” to get ahead is no longer friendship, but merely a strategic and often deceitful tactic that overlooks the other person’s interests in pursuit of your own. This style of networking is objectifying and can often lead to broken relationships that can hurt you professionally because at the end of the day, “it’s all about who you know,” right?
So, don’t be afraid of networking this 2022; let friendship guide your way.
How do you approach networking professionally?
Images via Melanie Acevedo for Darling Issue No. 11