In a hyper-connected world, the new opportunities that you are looking for in your career are going to come from the people you know. So if you want to expand your access to opportunities, you have to expand the number of people that you know. And if you want access to new opportunities, then you need to make some new connections.
There’s a trick to this, though. Instead of hastily reaching out to build new relationships only when you need something, you can plant seeds and cultivate new relationships before you even know where they are going to end up.
That’s right, you can start a new business relationship without a specific, immediate need. In fact, this is way more effective because people can smell when you are desperate and just looking to connect to get something from them.
Expand Your Circle
Looking to bring new people into your sphere of influence is a powerful way to build your career, whether or not you know what you are looking to build next.
Even adding five new relationships can have a huge impact.
Unfortunately, as adults we usually complicate the whole “making new friends” thing. It doesn’t have to be that hard. Children in grade school and freshmen in college usually just go up to someone and say, “Hi, my name is ______, what’s yours?” And they’re off to the races.
It might not be that simple in our busy and hectic professionals lives, but it doesn’t have to be complex either.
Identify Possible Contacts
The first thing to do is to identify people that you would like to reach out to and engage with. When we take off the blinders of our day-to-day activity, there are a lot of people that we could choose. For example:
- Is there someone in your department that you know by name only?
- Ask your friends if they know someone that you don’t that they think you should.
- Look through the business cards that you’ve gotten in the last year.
How do you know if it’s someone that you might want to bring closer into your network?
- Most importantly: do you like them? Life is short, make sure you spend it with people you enjoy being around.
- Are they willing to engage with you? There’s no need to chase after someone.
- Do they have a different perspective? It’s natural for us to build connections with people who are in the same field, industry, and role as us. Can you break out and meet people who do different work in different ways?
Approach them with an Opportunity
Going back to that school example, it can be scary on the first day of school to not know anyone and have to start a new relationship. We have that inherent human fear of being rejected. If you can put that on the back burner for a second, you’ll see it’s actually pretty simple.
I just send out a quick message, usually an email, that goes:
Bill, it was great meeting you at Sue and Juan’s party. The work you’re doing in marketing automation sounds really interesting. I’m always looking to connect with interesting people. Would you be up for grabbing a cup of coffee sometime? Maybe later next week on Thursday or Friday?
You’d be surprised at how many people will respond positively. If they aren’t in your area, you can ask for a “virtual coffee meeting” over the phone. Video chats can also work great.
And if they are someone that you already know but would like to know better, just reach out and ask for a chance to chat.
Hey Leslie, it was great working with you on the Simpson, Inc. project. I realized that I don’t know a lot about the consulting side of our business! It would be great to find out more about the work you are doing in your department. Would you be available for a cup of coffee in the cafeteria next week?
First Plant the Seeds, then Cultivate Them
Here’s where most people drop the ball. They have a nice cup of coffee, find out some interesting information about the other person, and then promptly file it away in their mind and go back to their work.
By doing so, you don’t keep the relationship growing. You don’t have to become best friends and go golfing every week. But you have to keep a low level of engagement going over time. A low simmer.
- Send them a follow-up email saying you enjoyed the conversation.
- Connect with them on social media channels. Even if it’s just LinkedIn, you now have another avenue for communication. They’ll see your updates and vice versa.
- Look for ways to connect them with opportunities. It might not happen for months, but if there is a way you can help them, do it.
- Put a reminder in whatever time-scheduler you use to reach back out for a follow-up meeting (Google notes or Outlook reminders work just fine). It could be next month, next quarter, or even six to twelve months down the line, but remind yourself to reach back out them.
Play the Long Game
By expanding your network, you are creating opportunities for your career down the line. The line might be 3 months long…or 3 years, but if you don’t start the ball rolling, you’ll never have a chance to reap the rewards.
By starting and cultivating these relationships, you are investing in social capital. There will be a point in the future when one of these people will be able to help you: They could be the person approving a new position (that you want) in your company, they could give an introduction to a potential client, or they could have a start-up company that wants to hire you.
The opportunities are endless, but you have to put in the time up front.
A version of this article appeared on Darcy Eikenberg’s awesome site: Red Cape Revolution. You can find it here.