I don’t remember ever feeling comfortable in networking situations and when I had to introduce myself to a group of strangers. 

But the thing is, these nerve-wracking conversations could lead to critical personal and professional opportunities. Think about it! You are probably where you are in your career or as an enlightened person due to communal effort. The contribution of those around us in our individual advancement cannot be downplayed.

Your network is your net worth…

And we’re always one or two persons away from getting what we need. All we have to do is reach out to people we know. Mildred Apenyo, an entrepreneur and the founder of FitcliqueAfrica, was able to secure space for her women’s only gym through her network, for example. One of the trainers she worked with connected her to a family that owns a hotel and they agreed to let her turn one of their conference rooms into a fitness space. This saved her a lot of time and the resources that would have gone into searching for a usable space throughout her city.

Whatever you do, don’t network just for the sake of it. Most of us are consumed with attending all the events out there and collecting as many business cards possible. Post ‘networking’ binge, we always find ourselves stuck in a rut, wondering if it was all even worth it. The key is to be deliberate about the events you attend. Show up ready to mingle. Once you get the contact information you need, don’t let it sit there gathering dust. Take action. Remember that networking is a process that requires on to be proactive.

What keeps us from taking action?

The fear of rejection

There’s always a chance that our attempts at fostering relationships will be rejected. It’s only natural for us to avoid instances where rejection is a possibility. The thing about life however, is that nothing is certain, so you might as well try. The worst that could happen is that they’ll say ‘no.’ But remember, with every ‘no’ you are one step closer to a YES!

Being stuck in our comfort zones

Networking takes time, effort, energy and resources – things that a lot of us unfortunately see as ‘doing too much.’ “They have my contact information, if they are interested they will reach out,” we say. “Why should I follow up with an email or a call?” we wonder. We think that just attending the event and putting in face time is enough. It is not, unfortunately. You have to nurture the relationships. Make initial contact, follow up with in-person meetings and grow from there.

Getting things done

As Martha C. White outlines in TIME, it’s increasingly becoming clear that for networking to work, we have to shift from the ‘What’s in it for me?’ mindset. It is imperative to understand that there is a mutual exchange in this process. Networking is not just about accumulating a list of contacts that you can reach out to when the need arises. It is more about building real relationships that involve active participation of give and take between both parties.

Depending on your situation, you need to first identify the people you would like to connect with. It could be someone you want to learn from professionally or an investor who you think might be interested in your business concept. Once the individual has been identified, the first step you take in approaching them could either seal the deal or break it. You might be tempted to bombard them with information about yourself or your potential business, but it is not about you. Remember?

Your first introduction should be about connecting with that person. Show them that you are genuinely interested in what they do and what they have to say. Create an atmosphere that compels them to talk about themselves. Ask thoughtful questions and actively listen to their responses. This will build a good rapport that will seamlessly lead to a conversation about you.

You have connected, what’s next?

At this point, there’s only one thing left. Follow up. Follow up. Follow up! The sooner you hit the ground running, the better. Business etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore asserts relationships take time to be built. In order for you to build a strong professional network, mastering the art of the follow up is necessary.

A quick email post the event will do. It doesn’t have to be long but it should contain the fundamentals. Begin by thanking the person for their time. If you had a very nice conversation about a particular topic, this could be the starting point to setting up the next meeting. Apart from that, it is also important to keep in mind a few details about the conversation you had. What were the other parties’ needs and how can you be involved in meeting those. Always seek out ways you can help your new contact without expecting anything in return. The level of trust will build over time if you do this.

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