So that's how it's done? | 9 Tips for Building Your Network

main.jpgThe thought of networking intimidates many people, myself included. It requires you to put yourself out there, and that can be awkward. Having to go to an event  to furiously pass out my business card and provide my very best sales pitch for why you should add me as your contact on Linkedin makes me want a drink. Unfortunately, I’ve found that effective networking is essential to building a career. Fortunately, not all networking is intimidating and you often get to meet a lot of interesting people.

Last Friday’s room at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits was overflowing with folks who came to hear Trista Harris—executive director of Headwaters Foundation for Social Justice and founder of the New Voices of Philanthropy blog—for our monthly Emerging Leaders Network LunchHow to Build Your Network (from scratch!).

She provided 9 solid tips to get you started on building your own network:

  1. Prioritize networking. Building a network takes time, effort, and energy. If you are serious about building a network or have decided to get back on the networking bandwagon, make sure you make it a priority. Set aside some time each day to enter new contacts or reach out and connect with someone in your network.
  2. Look inside your fridge. I bet before you go grocery shopping you go through your cabinets and refrigerator to see what you already have. No need to buy more milk when you have a gallon of it sitting pretty in the fridge. As you start to build (or expand) your network, don’t forget to check your electronic rolodex (e.g. LinkedIN, email contacts, etc) and take advantage of the network you already have.
  3. Social networking is not for the birds. It’s for you. Social networking sites provide optimal opportunities for you to promote yourself and build your network. Not using it just makes you that awkward person in the group that says, “Twip, Twit, Tweet or whatever, yeah I don’t do that.”
  4. Get your own business cards. You might have business cards provided by your employer, but these aren’t always the most appropriate cards to use. It’s important to be able to build an identity for yourself that isn’t based purely on where you work. Create unique business cards that give a window into your personality—who you are (i.e. personal brand)—in a memorable way using services from Moo Cards or Vistaprint.
  5. Join a professional association. Almost every profession has a professional association. Do your research to find out if there is a professional association you can join. Be aware that some associations charge fees that can be expensive. (Note: I’d highly recommend joining the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. It’s free and there are a lot of great people involved!)
  6. Attend a (nonprofit) conference. Most conferences tend to attract hundreds of people. This makes them a hotbed for meeting and connecting with individuals you might not otherwise run into. Conference fee’s can be expensive. If you don’t have an employer who can (or will) pay the fee, contact the organizers to find out if you can volunteer to help with the conference in exchange for registration.
  7. Talk to people. I recently started mentoring a college student. When she asked what advice I had for her, I told her to get out there and do as many informational interviews as possible. People love to talk about themselves, and are often flattered when someone asks them for advice. Not sure who to meet? Ask friends or colleges if they have recommendations for you.
  8. Build your ultimate mentor. It’s probably next to impossible to find a single person that possess all the traits and skills you’d want in a mentor. Determine your needs and build your own mentor by finding the people that have the skills or traits that will meet those needs.
  9. Create your own opportunity. While there are hundreds of networking groups in the Twin Cities, there might not be one that fit your needs. If you can’t find a network, then start your own (e.g. Linkedin group or Meetup).

I encourage you to check out Trista's blog post on networking for more resources.

What's blocking you from being the ultimate networker? What are some networking tips or tricks that have worked for you? Sharing is caring.

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