I often talk about the importance of networking both for entrepreneurs and for employees. For entrepreneurs, effective networking can lead to new business and sustainability. For employees, it’s important for remaining in the loop for employment and promotion opportunities.
Despite its value, many people’s eyes glaze over at the thought of networking – especially when they’re simply too busy with their jobs, children, studies, etc. Well, for those of you who just don’t have the time to attend “networking events” there’s still plenty of hope. I call it “Incidental Networking.” It is incidental in the sense that it’s something natural that fits into your normal routine. In my opinion, it’s networking in the sense that you’re building genuine relationships with other people.
Suggestions for Parents
If you’re a parent, you’re likely to see other parents on an ongoing basis while you’re picking up or dropping off your child/children at the caregiver’s or at school. If you are able to establish a consistent schedule, you’ll often see the same parents during these drop-offs and pick-ups. By building in a few moments to interact with the others who are doing the same thing, you’ll build a rapport that can (and ideally should) develop into a relationship over time. Then, as your child/children grow, you’re likely to see some of those same parents at swimming lessons, dance lessons, on the soccer field, or at the hockey arena. When you see those parents, you’ll already have a history and a foundation for a deeper relationship.
Suggestions for Parents and Pet Owners
If you’ve got a dog, by now you’ve noticed that there are a lot of times when the only people outdoors are those with young kids or pets. You may also have noticed that kids and pets are great at bringing people together since they’re often very sociable and like to interact with their “peers.” When possible, go with the flow and you’ll get to know the other parents and “dog-parents” while you’re out. This is even more likely when you’re able to follow a regular schedule and you see the same parents / dog-parents out when you’re out. You’ve already got common ground, your kids or pets, so it’s pretty easy to start up casual conversations. As the weeks and months pass, you may be able to develop some genuine casual relationships to the point where you look out for each other while you’re out and you chat about what’s happening outside of the park/dog park.
Suggestions for Athletes / Gym-Goers
If you’re part of a team or club, you’re already part of a “network.” If it’s a team that meets for practices and games on a regular basis then you may already know all of your teammates. If you do, then it might be a simple matter of arriving a little earlier or sticking around a little longer at the end so that you can spend time building on those existing relationships. On occasion, if there are opportunities for drinks or social gatherings with your team, try hard to attend so that you’ll have a less rushed chance to get to know everybody better.
If you’re playing tennis or squash and there’s a league or ladder that you can participate in, then by all means – participate. This will create a structured mechanism for meeting people who you don’t already know. If group exercise classes are more your style, then by attending the same weekly classes you’ll start to see the same people on a regular basis. Likewise, if you’re a “weights & cardio” person, then when possible, go to the gym on a regular schedule so that you’ll be running into some of the same people. The fact that you’re doing the same thing as others (i.e., weights and/or cardio) establishes the fact that you’ve got at least one thing in common. It should be easy to exchange small talk and then over time, have conversations.
For all the non-parents, non-pet owners, and non-athletes out there, I hope you can adapt some of the strategies I’ve mentioned in ways that suit the ways that you spend your time. In all three situations above, what I’ve described is really a way to build basic relationships doing the things that you’re already doing. To make it “networking” in a way that can help your business or career prospects, you’ll need to get to a point where you know what others do and they know what you do. More importantly, you’ll need them to learn that you’re good at what you do. But for now, the key is to start where you are and get to know more people as they get to know you.
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