On my previous post on “Kicking the Coupon Habit,” Twin Mom noted in a comment that doing well in a networked economy requires actually having a network. So how does one build that up, particularly if you’re not located in the epicenter of your industry?
It’s a good question, and certainly one I’m pondering now that I’ve left New York City. Yes, people in the writing and publishing world can work from anywhere, but it’s fascinating how many are in NYC! I have a few ideas for maximizing networking in the middle of a busy life:
1. Don’t be afraid to go places. There will always be reasons not to go to networking or professional events. There’s the expense of babysitting (or extra babysitting hours). There’s the hassle and expense of getting yourself on planes, trains and automobiles. And one never knows if the events themselves are going to be that great or if the meetings are worthwhile. For all these reasons it becomes easier to err on the side of doing too little. But that’s how isolation starts to occur. I’m making a point of going back to NYC every 2 weeks or so and packing professional and social meetings into those days. I’ve probably become more likely to say yes to conferences and events than I would have been before. You can usually get something out of these events, even if it’s chance meetings in the hallway. You can also start a “professional development fund” for yourself so this category doesn’t always get cut first.
2. Reach out. No, it’s not nearly as good as meeting in person, but email and phone calls still go a long way. Humans are social creatures and like to think that other people remember they exist. So send notes asking how old contacts are doing, or congratulating people on new jobs, moves, etc. Worst case scenario, you’re ignored. So what? Medium case scenario, you’re strengthening your social network. Best case, the person has just heard about this amazing opportunity you’d be perfect for. You have little to lose.
3. Be patient. Networks build over time. If you managed to get and hang on to 2 really good professional contacts a year, that would be 20 in 10 years — quite a decent number, if you think about it. And chances are, it will start to accelerate somewhere in there. I’m not a particularly skillful networker, but I do enjoy meeting people who also work with words for a living. I was reminded how many people I know in the library the other day, when I looked at the displays in the front area. These were random theme displays, not new books. But there were three books in this small display by authors I’d either had lunch with recently, coffee with, or been to someone’s house for dinner. It is still a small world, even with 7 billion of us on the planet. Focus on quality, and if you only really connect with someone every 3-4 months, that’s fine.
How have you built your professional network?