How to make meaningful connections and relationships in your career, even while juggling work and home-life demands
The term “networking” used to make me cringe. It conjured up the idea of going to an event, shaking hands, smiling awkwardly, meeting people I didn’t know, and making small talk about the weather—all in an attempt to make a business connection that produced some mutual benefit. It seemed forced, disingenuous, and generally not a fun way to spend time.
Furthermore, I resented that many of these events were after work, often falling between 5 and 7:30 p.m., forcing me to decide between my family and work. If it wasn’t that, it was spending several hours on the golf course or going out of town for a multi-day event, demanding more time than I could possibly give.
As a business owner and a mother, I have constantly juggled work and home demands in different ways throughout my career. With limited time to grow my business network, I found the first step to making this happen was pausing to ask why. This practice helped me prioritize which relationships to make and how to go about building them.
For me, the why was to learn from others. I wanted to connect with others who have done what I was attempting to do, subject matter experts, and those who demonstrated the leadership skills I wanted to emulate. Through networking, I wanted to build a community with a shared mutual goal of personal growth and helping others grow in kind.
Once I approached networking from that perspective, I began to view the idea of relationships and building meaningful connections differently. It not only took the “cringe” out of the process but also helped me rethink how I networked, and I began to enjoy it.
Setting your approach to networking
Here are six approaches to networking I’ve taken that have enabled me to make the most out of networking and develop authentic, mutually rewarding relationships:
- Shift your mindset. Stay curious about others. Learn what makes them unique and what drives them. What do they like to do, what can they teach you, what are they passionate about sharing with others?
- Think about what you bring to the table. How can you help your new connection be successful? Maybe it’s as simple as another introduction or a thoughtful response, question, or insight.
- Be grateful for the introduction and what you learned. When meeting someone new, or reconnecting, always thank them for their time.
- Ask permission to reach out to them if you have a question or want their advice on something. You would be surprised at how willing others are to share what they know or have learned.
- Cultivate those connections through email, coffee, phone calls, and notes. There are many ways to foster these connections, and they don’t all require hours of time spent outside of working hours. A personal favorite of mine is a note via mail. It may be old-fashioned, but it demonstrates that you care about that person and their contribution to your life.
- Be sensitive to others’ time. Maybe you meet over breakfast or coffee or keep it to a simple phone call. You could find something you are both interested in and join up at that event. I like connecting for walks—it’s a great opportunity to get some exercise in and connect.
Leaning into networking connections
In building my business relationships and the many networks, I’ve realized how much of an asset these networks are, with people often remarking how much they appreciate the connections I provide that bring fruitful discussions and mutually beneficial engagements.
It helps, when faced with a difficult situation or decision, to be able to lean on your network for insight. Ask yourself: Who has been here before? What could they support me with?
When seeing an opportunity, identify who in your network would be excited about this venture and who might be willing to collaborate can catalyze an idea or startup. Ask yourself: What’s in it for them, and is it a valuable use of time?
Growing your network by facilitating introductions between people can also be worthwhile. Ask yourself: Who could I introduce this person to that would further advance both their ideas and goals? How can I connect them?
Always follow up. Ask yourself: How did that connection go? Was it helpful? Was there value? If there wasn’t value, ask why to understand what didn’t work. If it was valued, what was most valuable?
Maintaining your network
You can only reach so many people, and spreading yourself too thin doesn’t work; conversations become superficial. Rather than cast a wide net, stay in touch with those you have built a relationship with, and cultivate a mutual desire to support each other. Often, their circles and yours overlap more often than you think.
So, toss out the thinking that the only way to develop a network is to go to lengthy events and after-hour drinks. There’s a better way!
Grow your network
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