I’ve attended a lot of conferences this year, and these events are some of my favorite times to network. I get to hang out with my friends and meet other people who share my interests and goals. Through conferences, I’ve landed speaking gigs, new clients, media appearances, and more.
This happened to me recently when I decided to attend Podcast Movement in Dallas. I thought the speaker lineup looked good and I had a couple of friends going. By chance, I ended up at Starbucks at the same time as Farnoosh Torabi. We’d met the previous year at FinCon and I had just interviewed her for the Gen Y Planning blog. We ended up chatting, she decided to Periscope, I made a cameo on her Periscope, and she invited me to appear on her podcast, So Money.
It was a great connection and I’ll be seeing her at yet another conference in September, so we’ll hang out again soon. I feel like I have a new industry buddy who is passionate about the same things that I am. This would never have happened had we not hung around the same circles for long enough — and it’s just one example of how networking can be natural instead of forced.
So how do you expand your circle in a way that feels authentic? Here are three places to start.
Working the Conference Circuit
I’ve had many positive experiences at conferences, but let’s face it: For a lot of people, they can be scary, especially if you’re there by yourself. But think of it this way: Most other people are also there by themselves, and they want to meet people too! These events offer great networking opportunities that you may not get anywhere else.
Introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you or ask if you can join a table during the lunch break. If there are vendor booths set up, talk to the people working them. Whether you’re job hunting or building up an existing business, have your elevator pitch ready.
If you have a friend or coworker there with you, networking in pairs is even easier than networking solo. You can talk each other up and approach strangers with more confidence. But make sure not to spend the whole conference in your tight-knit group. The whole point is to meet new people.
Here’s some old-school advice: carry business cards. If you make your own, include your social media handles so people can easily follow up with you.
Putting Social Media to Good Use
Connecting with someone on social media is a pretty easy way to get onto their radar. Share links to their articles, retweet them, and ask them questions. You can get a good conversation going online, and it might continue if you meet in person one day.
Thanks to my Twitter account, I’ve been invited to write guest posts on established finance sites. I’ve been interviewed by some of my favorite podcasters. I even scored a regular gig as a contributor to AOL Daily Finance, where I wrote regularly for several years.
Remember, if you want to use your social media accounts for business and networking purposes, keep them safe for work. To play it safe, don’t publish anything you wouldn’t want seen in a professional setting — even on a personal account. It’s all too easy to flub a privacy setting or to have friends share your content in a place where an unintended audience may see it. Your social media persona is who people think you are, and it’s important to come across as professional, approachable, and trustworthy.
Friends of Friends of Friends
The easiest and most fun way to network? Leave your house! That same elevator pitch that you use at conferences works in social situations, too. Accept those birthday party and happy hour invitations and set a goal to make more plans.
Your friends (and their friends) can be rich sources of information. You never know who can connect you to a new client, freelance project, or job opening at their company. Work those alumni connections, too. Keep in touch with former professors and go to alumni events. Already having one big thing in common with everyone — that is, your college experience — makes it so much easier to talk to strangers.
When you’re trying to get your career started, your friends want to help you. Spread the word if you’re looking for work, or have a friend connect you with your first few clients. And remember that the old saying is true especially in competitive job markets: It’s not what you know, but who you know.
Your connections could be the difference between scoring a great position and continuing to hunt for good opportunities.
Watch Your Network Grow
Networking isn’t just for people in suits with firm handshakes. Any time you have the opportunity to meet new people, whether it’s at a job fair or a dog park, it’s also an opportunity to make a business connection. Be friendly wherever you go and new connections are sure to follow.