It’s something we know we should do, but for most of us it’s about as much fun as a dental procedure.
Networking can improve your job prospects, increase brand awareness and broaden your circle of influence, but the notion of enduring hours of awkward chatter with strangers can be daunting. It’s often the last thing you feel like doing after a long day of work.
However, there is good news. Networking is no longer the drudgery it once was. The whole concept has changed, and you needn’t dread it.
[FREE DOWNLOAD: 10 techniques to beef up your networking]
Try these five approaches to make networking a breeze instead of a stressful squeeze:
Make it part of something you’re already doing. You don’t have to be at a conference, sporting a branded lanyard and swilling mediocre wine to forge relevant business connections.
Networking can happen anytime, anywhere. So, introduce yourself to the other team and the spectators at a company softball game. Shake hands with your table partner at a workshop. Create a group for like-minded professionals in your industry on a relevant social media platform, or invite potential clients to meet at your favorite coffee shop.
Why not turn your hobbies into networking opportunities? Networking is much less painful when you meet people on your turf, on your terms and in a setting where you’re comfortable.
Tack networking onto something that you are required to do anyway. In an article for Harvard Business Review, author and professor David Berkus advocates building networking into business travel. He writes, “ … arrive a few hours early or stay a little longer and see if you can connect with contacts.”
This way, he explains, you’re adding that benefit without taking additional time away from family and responsibilities at the office. You’re there anyway, and you can forge a new relationship with someone whose perspective will broaden and enrich your own.
Network within your organization. It’s easy to take the people around you for granted. However, establishing genuine connections with your colleagues will help you build internal influence, and they might be able to help you down the road.
If you’re notorious for skipping Happy Hour to catch up on work, stop doing that. Take an hour to mingle and have fun. Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t ordinarily talk to, and expand your contact list right there within the office.
Your best networking opportunities could be just a cubicle away.
Rekindle old friendships. If you’ve drifted apart from former colleagues, identify one person per month to reconnect with. Send an article that you think would interest them. Ask for a referral or recommendation. Ask your old pal how she or he is doing, and see if they reciprocate.
Don’t do this with people who drained you when you worked with them. Rekindle relationships with people who energize, encourage and inspire you. Just as it’s much easier for marketers to keep existing customers instead of chasing down new ones, sometimes re-igniting a lapsed friendship is the simplest (and most efficient) way to network.
Express appreciation. Networking isn’t just about making a new connection; it’s also about building upon and strengthening the connections that we already have.
Rather than forge a whole new relationship, why not express gratitude for one that is already a part of your world? Send a quick note of thanks or congratulations to someone who’s been helpful or supportive to you. Showing gratitude is nice for the other person, but it’s good for you, too.
Networking doesn’t have to be grueling. Sometimes, it just takes an attitude adjustment. Rather than viewing networking as something to be endured, look at it as a way of forging new relationships and strengthening existing ones.
Laura Small is a vice president at the ad agency RPA.