Want to Broaden Your Network? Start Close to Home
I’ve been really fortunate to be able to spend some time with old friends lately. I recently had a girls weekend in Toronto with two close friends that I’ve known for more than 20 years. I got to have lunch this past weekend with some great friends that I haven’t seen in ages. It’s always so wonderful to be able to connect with people I’ve known for a long time. There’s a sense of comfort and support, and of course, fun.
It’s all got me thinking about the nature of networking these days. We spend oodles of time trying to find new people to connect with. Social media tools like LinkedIN, Twitter and Facebook make it really easy to do that connecting. But it seems like we’re always searching for people we don’t know. In some cases, we don’t even know WHO we want to connect with, or why. It’s a social media connect-a-thon; the more people I can follow, the more will follow me.
Unfortunately, at a certain point, the quality of the connections we make has taken a back seat to the quantity of connections we have.
When I first joined Twitter in 2007, like many people, I didn’t really know what to do. This was before the tool was sophisticated enough to suggest people to follow, so I just sat there, staring at a basically blank page, wondering how I’d go about finding anyone to connect with. It was like showing up to a party early, and there’s nobody there that you know yet. I felt a bit lost.
But wait a second. I DID know some people. I’d just come back from a conference where I’d met some great new people. I figured I could start by following them, so I did. Then it occurred to me that there might be people in my own city using Twitter too. So I clicked on “Advanced Search” and typed in “Ottawa”, and boom. A list of people from my own home town that were on Twitter. I followed. I said hi, and found what are today, some of my closest friends and colleagues.
When you’re looking to network online, you don’t always need to look far and wide. Often, the best networking can be done within the circles with which you’re already familiar. So, if you’re looking to broaden your network, start by taking a look closer to home.
Past Co-Workers, Future Opportunities
Once you get to a certain age, you have usually built up quite a resume of past employers. Most people just focus on their old bosses when they are looking for new opportunities, but you know what? I’ve gotten more opportunities by connecting with past co-workers than almost anything. Seek out the people you used to work with. Search for them on Facebook. Find them on LinkedIN. But don’t just send a connection request. Write them a note, and say hi. Ask them what they are up to now, and if they are in the same town (or you’re going to be traveling to their town), then invite them to lunch. Social media makes it so easy to connect with folks from your past -and even if every connection doesn’t turn into that next big gig, at least you’ll have fun doing it!
Search In Your City
New to Twitter? Do what I did, and search for people in your city. You may find some people you already know, and you’ll likely find a bunch that you don’t. Follow them and say hello. Start getting involved in the conversation that’s already going on inside the borders of your own town. Get to know people and then find ways to meet them in person. One other tip – most cities and towns have created their own hashtags. For example, my city, Ottawa, uses #Ottawa and #ottcity. Find the hashtag for your town and save a search on it. It’s a great way to get a sense of what’s happening in your community and to find new local people to follow.
Get the Word Out
About 95% of the jobs I’ve ever had, I’ve gotten because of a referral. In fact, I think there’s only one case in which I was hired because I’d emailed my resume to an HR person.
When you’re seeking new opportunities, getting the word out is critical. Now, I don’t mean tweeting that you’re desperate for a job, because desperation is one of the least effective ways to find work. But I do mean not being afraid to let people know that you’re looking for new challenges. It’s a fine balance, but I find one of the best ways to keep yourself in peoples’ minds is to be consistently creating great content. I can tell you that since I’ve moved back to a 3 times weekly posting schedule on this blog, and a 3 times weekly schedule on our company blog, that inquiries about our services and training have gone up about 25%.
You don’t need to be constantly asking for a job. But if you want to find new opportunities, find ways to creatively get the word out about what you have to offer, and your leads will increase.
Networking doesn’t always have to be about expanding your reach as far as possible. In fact, I’ve found that by focusing on a more local network of people and on those that I already know, I’ve been able to expand my network in a much more effective way. The connections I am making are more solid and the leads I’m generating are much more genuine.
What has been your experience with networking close to home?
Reminds me of something my very first coach said to me when I left the corporate world back in 2001 “Always start with the gold in your own back yard.” Such simple and practical advice yet often overlooked.