Getting to Know You

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?

10 thoughts on “Getting to Know You

  1. I’d add “putting yourself out there”. I’m not the attention seeking type. I’ve attended the same church on and off for a couple of years, and know a few faces and names, but certainly not most parishioners. However… I’m facilitating a workshop in the upcoming weeks – marketing the workshop means that I (gasp) stand up in front of the entire congregation to deliver a short pitch.

    This pushes me waaaaay out of my comfort zone (shaking hands and all). The net result, though, is well worth it – I’m fielding lots of questions about the workshop and meeting lots of new people in the process.

    1. @Amy F – I agree. I actually enjoy public speaking now, but it has taken a bit to get there. It usually leads to new connections, new opportunities, etc. I have also learned that it is perfectly fine to, say, approach a random table at a conference and ask to sit there, or to walk up to a conversation group and introduce myself. Certainly better than standing around all alone!

  2. Great post! It’s a bit harder for engineers, who usually work with physical things, than for writers, but it can be done. It encourages me that volunteering as the chair for the Society of Women Engineers essay contest is worthwhile. When I presented the awards last year, one of the managers (a couple levels up) that I used to work for noted to someone else that I was a good extemporaneous speaker. (That’s not his gift and he respects it.)

    This post also reminds me that we may have to move, or I may have to take a job I don’t like (in healthcare, for example) because the limitations of a truly rural area (two hours from a major city doesn’t count) are real.

    Can I avoid becoming a registered nurse? The plot thickens…

    1. Would you be a good nurse if you didn’t like it? Try volunteering in a hospital first before you invest time/money etc. Do you feel drawn to nursing–a childhood dream perhaps? ARe the better jobs at major hospitals, also out of your area?

      1. I would be a good nurse whether I liked it or not. I would certainly volunteer/get a CNA before applying to a program, which is also required. I would probably focus on the ICU side of things, which requires a good knowledge of equipment and perhaps less bedside manner.

        Yes, the best jobs would be outside my area. But if my husband isn’t willing to move, I’m not willing to leave him.

    2. Is there a community college nearby that you could teach for, even as an adjunct? I know the pay isn’t very good (I’ve done it before) but it might keep you at least somewhat “visible” until an engineering job comes your way. Even if they don’t offer engineering courses, perhaps you have enough of a math background to teach as an adjunct in that field (or one of the other STEM fields)?

      1. Thanks for the suggestions, everyone!

        I’ve applied to the local college- the market is saturated. They want someone with 30 credits of graduate math classes to teach trigonometry. My degree is in engineering, which doesn’t count. I HAVE applied though, so I took a step. $1500 for a 3 credit course (adjunct pay) wouldn’t quite cover a babysitter, once I factor in office hours and commute.

        1. Wow, ok, we have a much better situation here. Pay is closer to $1900 for a 3 credit class, no office hours required if you’re an adjunct, there are always a couple evening classes available (that only meet twice per week), and they don’t require 30 grad hours of math. In fact, I actually know an engineer who definitely didn’t have 30 math hours who taught (as an adjunct).

          I enjoyed it a lot…but in the end, the extra money isn’t worth it on a per-hour basis, given the other time commitments I have. So I don’t do it any more.

          Good luck with your situation, whatever you decide to do!

  3. I am a teacher and we may be moving. I will have no contacts where we are going, other than my husband’s co-workers (who are not teachers). The company is sponsoring a mixer, which I plan to attend and will push myself out of my comfort zone to talk to as many people as possible, b/c maybe someone’s spouse/sibling/parent is a teacher/principal. At the very least, their kids go to school and they may be able to connect me with someone.
    My husband has contacted former employees of his company who are now working elsewhere to see if there are opportunities here on LI. LinkedIn has been invaluable with this.

  4. I am super extroverted but have trouble justifying evening networking after a 40 or 45 hour week in the office.. I’d like to spend that time with my kids. I try to do it ocassionally at bigger ticket events or early morning networking before work.. or I up my cold calling and other things like that.. Also never under estimate the power of networking whenever you are in a group of people. I chat folks up in the bathroom at weight watchers meetings and just asking for what you want and telling people what you are trying to do can go a long way! Most women don’t ask so we can all start by asking more and letting the kids see daddy and grandma etc. when we need that time!

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