You’re still working at home. You don’t see that changing any time soon, and you don’t mind. You may miss going out to lunch, but the commute and having to wear shoes? Not even a little bit. But you realize that what’s gone is seeing people regularly, and while you never loved to network, you know that it lets you be part of the conversation that people have when they’re looking for someone to fill a role and fix a problem.
Ultimately, the conversation ends with someone saying, “I know a guy,” offers Mark S. Babbitt, CEO of WorqIQ and co-author of Good Comes First.
You want to be that guy. Especially in our current job market. And because networking is a reciprocal relationship, you also want to be the guy who knows a guy in order to help someone else.
All of this comes from having connections. But you feel that your world is shrinking and the opportunities that were built into an office workday are no longer there. Are you out of luck? Of course not. It just takes some adjusting and doing what you never really wanted to do, namely mixing your personal and work lives.
If it sounds uncomfortable or awkward, it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to network successfully if you never really leave the house.
1. Get Up And Out
LinkedIn and Zoom conferences can help you meet people, but they’re side dishes, never the main course. Networking unavoidably needs to be in-person where you have eye contact and responses can’t always be crafted. It’s there that you get to know someone, and networking is nothing more than building relationships and finding like-minded people, Babbitt says.
The good news is that there’s no best way to do this. If the thought of a pure networking event makes you queasy, you don’t have to do it. It might be that a chamber of commerce event where you can have small conversations or a lecture where the topic is what attracts people is the right setting for you. The thing is that you have to do something that takes effort and for which you carve out time. .
“It is no coincidence that the word ‘work’ is embedded in the word ‘network’,” he says.
2. Make It About Them
Forget about whether people will find you interesting. That’s way too much pressure and it makes networking all about you. Instead, find interesting people because they’re there, and then ask them questions. Getting attention is rare, so when it’s done – by you – it resonates. All it takes is being open-minded and curious. It’s about having the idea that “I’m probably going to learn something cool about someone,” says Samantha Reynolds, founder and CEO of Echo Storytelling Agency. “That’s a win in a day.”
Babbitt adds that if the event you’re attending is a lecture or speech, come prepared with three good questions, and be ready to ask one when it’s time. It adds to the conversation, and by bringing up what other people are thinking about, but don’t have the nerve to say, you stand out. You also have a natural icebreaker when they approach you afterwards.
“It invites people in,” he says. “It’s social proof that you care about being there.”
3. Find Your Story
You’re at the event. You’re face-to-face with someone. Now what? Asking them questions is great, but eventually you need to offer something. You can play off the shared moment – the shape of the room, the traffic – or ask if they’ve ever seen this speaker before to build some initial rapport.
Or you can tell a story. People are wired to remember stories more than facts, Reynolds says. It doesn’t have to be long. It just has to have a little tension, a choice, some change. “It was good. It got better, the end is not a story,” she says.
If you need a start, you can try, “I’ve never said this before.” It creates immediate intrigue, draws people in, and reflects that you’re comfortable enough to open up, making it likely that others will follow.
4. Use Your Village
When you work at home, it’s normal to feel hesitant to network with your neighbors and fellow parents, but you can’t be so precious about keeping the two worlds separate since they’re intertwined. There’s also nothing wrong with it, because your intent is not shameless selling, but building relationships. Even if you gain nothing professional, you’ll feel more connected to where you live. Just don’t make relationships transactional; that’s a bad look — and extremely transparent.
Like with work, go with what interests you. Volunteer for a group. Help out in class. Do pick-up from school, which is often a more relaxing time than drop-off and more prone to casual conversations. And other than owning a dog, nothing gets you around people more than coaching a team. The schedule lets people see over time how constructive you are and you can see who supports the team and who yells at referees.
5. Take The Next Step
Eventually, around the neighborhood or at an event, someone will ask, “What do you do for a living?” That’s evidence of a comfort level and an interest in knowing more about you. “That’s the end of Phase 1,” Babbitt says.
That’s cue to start talking and sharing more. Maybe you hang out after the game or event. Maybe you go for coffee at another time. Whatever it is, it entails a bigger step. “You need to stick your neck out there,” he says. But at some point, you’re looking for an accountant or plumber and realize that you know someone. And someone else might do the same with you, because the process, while not quick, isn’t complicated.
“We want to do business with people we like,” Reynolds says. “That’s just human nature.”