Six months ago my job ended and I had the opportunity to reimagine what I’d do next. I'm still trying to figure that out and I am open to suggestions.
I spent 16 years running a media agency and spent my time managing people and clients, celebrating successes and putting out fires.
Along the way I met amazing people, learned about different media opportunities, and grew my network. But I did not learn the key networking lessons…those only came recently.
I was quickly reminded that networking is a vital skill -- made more important by the growing distribution of the workforce across remote and physical environments as well as the rapid pace of technological innovation. In this environment, a robust network across industries and skill sets is a must-have if you want to stay at the forefront of your career.
Here’s what I’ve learned from diving headfirst into networking:
Join a networking group that is energized about learning and helping one another
Be thoughtful about the networking group you join. You want to find people who are excited and committed to the cause. (I’ve found success with Serial Marketers, The Internet Oldtimers Foundation, Lunch Club, MadTech and Upstream.)
It’s not enough to simply sign up and observe. Participation is key. Weigh in, follow up and help by making introductions, sharing your insights or attending events.
The most valuable people -- and the most connected -- in any community are the ones who fully participate.
Mentoring connects you to people who want to improve themselves and the world, and those are exciting people to be around! I’ve served as a mentor at three startup accelerators (ERA, XRC Labs and Bolster). Along the way, I’ve met other accomplished mentors, many startups and inspiring people with big ideas to improve the future through innovation.
Being in the orbit of people who span the life cycle of their careers and are placing big bets on disruption will deepen your own insights and contribute to a more diverse network.
Consider an investment group
Angel groups may offer exciting connections and opportunities for those of us looking to boost our networking later in our careers. Professionals at my life stage might join a country club or an expensive gym. Why not put that expense to good use and invest in early-stage startups?
By joining an investment group, you can limit the size of your commitment while getting to meet people passionate about supporting entrepreneurship. I joined Gaingels and TBD Angels.
Proactively seek out events
Set alerts for EventBrite and Meetup for New York City events around topics or industries that interest you. There are also weekly newsletters that track upcoming events (I’m interested in tech and am signed up for Jaime Russo’s IRL). Explore apps designed for people to meet professionally such as Supermomos and Saturday. And start following event producers and industry leaders (I’m following Andrew Yeung on Twitter and Instagram).
Proactively seeking out the venues, apps, and influencers hosting and supporting events in your industry or area will surface opportunities as they become available to your newsfeed or inbox.
Find someone who looks more uncomfortable than you
When I started networking, I wasn’t good at extending my hand and saying ‘Hi, I’m Barry; what’s your name?’. The idea of going up to a stranger and introducing myself made me so uncomfortable.
I think because I spent so much of my career being called on, I never really learned how to introduce myself first. I had to work my way up to a comfort level.
In the beginning I’d find the person who looked more uncomfortable than me (often looking at their phone trying to appear busy) and I’d introduce myself. They were almost always eager to strike up a conversation.
Go easy on yourself
Events are hit or miss. Sometimes you meet a lot of people and other times you don’t. But avoid beating yourself up if you leave an event without a treasure trove of new connections.
Remember that simply going to an event is a success. Focus on the joy of meeting new people and the value of new experiences and seeing new places.
Carve out time dedicated to networking
If it’s a busy time at work or at home, we can be quick to cut networking time. But networking is what makes the future possible so you have to be protective of your networking time.
Companies can help with this. Networking should become an exercise and value that all organizations encourage, especially in an era when there is always so much to learn.
The bottom line
One more valuable lesson I’ve learned: There’s no point to really plan or try to manage the outcome of networking. There is a wonderful serendipity to life. Show up. Introduce yourself and let the networking Gods take care of the rest. Just remember to smile when you say your name.