I’m an outgoing introvert. I’ll take a little attention here and there — especially when I get worked up about whatever I’m talking about — but I otherwise focus on getting others to talk and I avoid networking like a sale on plus-size speedos.
So it’s no surprise that like many other freelance writers, I loooooove working from home. I love not having in-person meetings and not being expected to say “Have a good weekend,” to forty people as they leave the office, or re-living the dreaded, “Ew, are you eating sausage and vegetables for breakfast?” as I munch away in the breakroom.
But what I didn’t realize is while I didn’t have the burden of these social engagements, I also haven’t enjoyed the benefits of having a reliable, regular network, like…
- Practicing communication and empathy 8 hours per day.
- Learning new things and getting new ideas from others.
- Enjoying fellowship and friendship based on shared challenges.
- Inside jokes OK I get that one from Twitter.
The list goes on.
So, yes, you can run a business and opt out of relationships in today’s digital economy. But unless you really mean to do that (and if you do, I recommend counseling instead), you might be missing out on important relationships by accident.
I devote part of The Sweet Spot guide to networking. How to do it, why to do it, and what you get out of it. But here’s a NOW That’s What I Call Networking! greatest hits list of what epic networking can do for you:
Meeting People Makes Life Worth Living (And Businesses Worth Running)
Charlie Jones (who I don’t know much more about) famously said, “Five years from now, you’ll be the same person except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
You have a book list, sure. But the rest of the work we seem to leave up to fate. And then we’re surprised when the only people we meet are flip-phone wielding librarians and history teachers at bible study.
These are wonderful people to know in real life, but if someone doesn’t understand the Internet or GIFs, there’s only so deep your relationship can go, you know? And there’s only so much you can help each other feel connected and respected online.
This relationship is explained in Black Swan yet (recommended by Ross Simmonds). I haven’t finished it yet, but the first few chapters dig into the hard-to-replicate benefits of sporadic and nonlinear connections like the ones that arise when you meet random people via Twitter or at unconferences.
Sporadic and nonlinear connections arise when you meet random people via Twitter or at unconferences and your connection leads to personal growth and development.
If you don’t dip your toe into the pool and take risks to make friends online, you’ll miss out on the partnerships and growing experiences that grow from them and you won’t satisfy your basic human need for connection.
How to do it:
The biggest problem I run into online is that the people I want to meet tend to have followings already and a hefty hourly rate. *Cough Ed Gandia Cough* *Cough Ash Ambirge Cough* But we don’t need to start at the top, and if anything focusing on peer relationships (people at the same stage of the game as you give or take a bit of audience) will lead to deeper connections because you’re both asking the same questions.
For example, I met Andrea Emerson at a conference last year. Based on her awesome blog and her Harvard status I’d say she’s a bit out of my league, but by finding out we share a love of CS Lewis, passive income, and B2B writing, I reached out to see if she was interested in getting into webinars. Result? We’re hosting our first (for both of us) at the end of March to talk about how to break into B2B writing.
Is this something I could have done on my own? Definitely. Is this something I am looking forward to 1,000x more and something I think will be way more productive and helpful (and fun) for the audience? Even more definitely! In this case, building something with someone else gives the thing itself greater depth and larger impact than anything I could do on my own.
Friendships Are Based on Self-Interest (Theirs, Not Yours)
Last month I finally worked through Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and it’s just as amazing as everyone says.
Of the many important things you’ll learn from that book is that humans are naturally self-interested, and so you can form relationships by becoming truly interested in other people. However, the magic doesn’t stop there.
It’s not that faking interest in other people will get you what you want. It’s that being interested in other people will help you realize that you want to help them.
Faking interest in other people won’t get you what you want. Being interested in other people will help you realize that what you want is to help them.
The opposite is also true, that when we feel others are interested in us, we have a natural desire to help them, too.
How does this translate into epic networking? By offering you the ultimate networking lesson: chill out on your goals and start thinking about other people.
Carnegie’s book provides hundreds of examples of how this works in conversation, so I recommend you pick up a copy. But you can also practice thinking of other people by asking yourself questions about your basic assumptions and using the answers to spark some conversation starters:
- Does that person have kids or a pet? (Not the same thing, of course). How does that affect their business, their life, and their travel?
- Why did that person pick that photo to be their headshot/Twitter pic/LinkedIn pic?
- What made this person go into this line of work?
- Is this person still driven in business by finances, or have they unlocked that next level where they care about the meaning of the work?
- What do I know or do that could help this person achieve a personal or professional goal?
- Is this person struggling with anything I’m struggling with?
- Did this person respond to a photo I posted about X or X?
Obviously it’s better if you actually work through these examples, but just considering the answers with your goal network in mind will help you see how quickly you can redirect your “Me, me, me!” thinking to put others first.
How to do it:
Get chatting! I prefer Twitter and email, you might prefer Instagram and Slack. Regardless, movement is the only medium that matters in networking. Get curious and ask (polite) questions that start conversations.
Now, sometimes you just won’t vibe with people, so you need to be sensitive to the feedback you’re receiving about when and how someone wants to interact with you (and avoid sending spammy emails or Skype messages). But there’s nothing stopping you from sending a note or Twitter mention to say:
Hello, how are you? I saw you just launched X and it made me think of X. Is that something you think about, too? No worries if you’re busy, it was just on my mind.
No matter how successful or famous someone is, you never know when they’ll be in a mood to hit REPLY to that email and shake things up a bit, because if they’re successful and famous they know how important those nonlinear connections can be.
If it’s a peer you’re reaching out to, take the same bent. Explicitly detail how much you value their time and how optional it is that they respond or engage with you, and then share the non-promotional thought or message you have to share.
And PS, please don’t ruin it by saying “By the way, could you help me promote X?” in the middle of a cool exchange. That’s like finishing a first date by whipping out your briefcase of pager models and asking if they’ve missed the 90s.
What to Do With Your Network When You Have One
As you start to make friends on the Internet, you’ll wonder what you can to do leverage your growing network for your own success. When you get to that point, I want you to come back here and stop it and re-read section two.
Your network doesn’t exist to endlessly promote you and help you meet your goals. When you do awesome things and have an awesome network, that network will naturally amplify your amazingness and help it spread. It is not and will never be a be-all-end-all tool you use to make your dreams come true.
The best example I see of this is the team from DYFConf that put together The Independent Consulting Manual. These people are genuinely good at what they do and they formed genuine friendships. They made product and it blew up because of these two traits, not because they each said, “I want to make $$$$$ from a book, boo yah!” (Correct me if I’m wrong, though, guys!).
Same goes for The Oatmeal. He makes awesome things and they take off. He doesn’t make awesome things and then pester his millions of fans to support him because he’s awesome. They do so because they know he’s awesome and they want to see him succeed.
Your network doesn’t exist to endlessly promote you and help you meet your goals. Your network is here to amplify you when you invest in it and invest your awesomeness into the things you do.
Your network is here to amplify you when you invest in it and invest your awesomeness into the things you do.
When you finally do have a great network, don’t revert to your same old selfish behavior. Use your newfound powers to lift even more people up and support projects and things you believe in. When you’re genuine and intentional about giving back, your network will naturally be there to support you when you do make a move.
How to do it:
As my mom would say, quoting a little duck from one of my favorite kid’s books, “To be a friend with lots of heart, you must begin right at the start. First think of things that you can do so others will be friends with you!” In this case, this is an invitation to ask others how you can support them.
Keep an eye on your network’s releases and buy or re-tweet them. Invite them to guest post on your site or interview you if you’ve had great results with their product. Whatever you want your network to do for you, do it for them first with no expectation of a return.
Tell Me How to Network
The entire point of this post is that we are better when more people are involved. So, get involved! What are your best networking tips, or what do you struggle with most when it comes to networking? Tippy-tappy your way into the comments section below.
PS Copyblogger (of course) wrote about this topic, too, and has some great practical advice here.