Increase your networking efforts, during a shaky economy

If thinking about networking makes you reach for an antacid you are not alone. Even for social butterflies it can seem overwhelming. But painful or not, networking is the smart thing to do in a shaky economy.
Here are some networking tips to help you:
Start attending industry and business events. If you hate the thought of walking into a room of strangers, call the organizer and ask for a list of attendees. Usually they are happy to forward the RSVP list. Another approach is to simply arrive early and scan the name tags that are on the table. Invariably, you will see a few names of people you know.
Another advantage of arriving early is that you have an automatic icebreaker with the other early birds, “Looks like we’re the first ones here…” It also forces you into a small group that others will join as they arrive (rather than you having to break into their group).
If you arrive early, you can also strike up a conversation with the person behind the registration desk, who is often a good source of information about the organization, who’s who, and who might be a good person for you to meet.
If group events make you feel like an awkward seventh grader at his first dance, bring someone with you. Ideally, choose someone who is outgoing (bonus points if he or she is well-connected). Another advantage of having a colleague along is that you get to sing the praises of each other to the people you meet—it’s easier than talking about yourself.
Then there is the good, old-fashioned lunch and breakfast. But don’t wait to reach out to someone only when you need something. The best networkers know that you build your network before you need them. Get yourself in the habit of connecting with someone a few times a month. When you can help them out with some information, or make an introduction to someone who might be able to help them, they will value you as a member of their network and will be glad to reciprocate.
Join a social networking service such as LinkedIn or Facebook. You can stay in touch with people you’ve met in a non-scheduled, casual way. You can search the site for people you know or ask friends to introduce you to others in their network.
When you network with someone, take notes about what they are interested in, what information they are looking for and actions they have taken for you (such as making an introduction). Whether you track your contact activity in a database management system such as ACT, or just keep a notebook, the important thing is to be organized and have a system for follow up. When I was changing jobs years ago, I kept a spiral notebook with this information, so I could easily track who led me to whom. This way I could circle back and thank them and give them updates on my networking progress. People who have taken the time to connect with you want to hear progress reports…as long as you are respectful of their time.
When you are networking don’t make it all about you. Ask the other person questions that get them talking about themselves. People always enjoy being with someone who is a good listener. Ask questions such as “How did you get into your field?” “What interesting projects are you working on right now?” “What organizations do you belong to?” “What do you do for fun?” You can often learn important things about your colleagues that will create a more trusting bond between you.
If someone does do something for you be sure to follow up with a thank you. A simple voice or email message of appreciation will assure them that you understand the unspoken rules of networking. What goes around does indeed come around. Not only can networking be good for hearing about job opportunities, it can be a rich source of long-lasting friendships.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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