How to Build A Network From Scratch in 15 Minutes A Week, Part I

Network.jpg

As promised, this week we are addressing a question we’ve been asked several times recently:  how can you build a network when you don’t have one and don’t have any time? 

We’ve previously written about three common networking mistakes you can avoid and how holiday parties can help you expand your network. 

But over the next few weeks, we are focusing on how to get started building a network.  Some of this advice is foundational, but we can all use a refresher sometimes.  And, because you are already busy, we aren’t going to give you a complicated plan to devote hours and hours to building your network.  Instead, through just 15 minutes per week, we’re going to build your network.  We won’t make you go to a single “networking event,” but we will help you build and deepen your connections in a way that’s authentic, productive, and comfortable for you.  Here goes.   

First, get rid of the notion that you don’t have a network.  You do.  Really.  And this week you are going to figure out your existing network.  To begin, set a timer for 15 minutes.  (Seriously.)  If you want to go longer, you can, but the goal isn’t to get a gold star by doing hours and hours of work.  The idea is to get started.  You can do anything for 15 minutes, and you don’t even have to make idle chit chat at a painful cocktail party where you don’t know anyone.

Once you’ve set your timer, take out a piece of paper or open a file on your computer.  Again, we aren’t going for perfection here.  The goal isn’t to design a perfect Excel spreadsheet (though knock yourself out if that’s what you prefer); the goal is to get going. 

Now take a moment to write down why you want to build your network.  (Recording your why will be helpful in the weeks to come, so take a minute and do it now.)  Is it because you know you won’t be in this job forever?  Will your work life feel enriched by building relationships with others in your field?  Will it be easier to maintain your sense of purpose if you’re in touch with others in the field doing inspiring and important work?  Will you feel less lonely if you have people outside your office you can call and ask for help?  Will you dread networking events less because you’ll recognize some familiar faces?  Are you doing this because everyone says you should, even if you’re not entirely sold on it?  Whatever the reason, write it down.   

Next, we are going to start building your list of affiliations.  Write down the name of every school you’ve attended.  (Yes, every school.  And don’t skip any, thinking that you haven’t been in touch with people until now, so why bother.  Stop the timer, reread three common networking mistakes you can avoid, and then get back to work.  Then record the name of each of your employers (past and current).  Don’t skip your internships or summer jobs – after I wrote a post about the career lessons I learned working at Noah’s Ark Waterpark, I heard from several of my former summer workers, and getting reconnected to them has been fun and has resulted in some new opportunities.  

Once you have your schools and employers, list any non-profit or community or social organizations you are involved with in your professional capacity.  These might be groups like a professional association or non-profit board you serve on, or charity you volunteer for in a work capacity.  (Not sure if an activity falls under your professional capacity?  It’s fine – just write it down.)     

Next it’s time to list any groups (formal or informal) you are part of in your personal capacity.  This is often where people stop, convinced that the people they have met through their condo board or book club can’t be helpful.  First, they are wrong.  (Just ask our insurance agent, who Keith initially met through their shared condo board service.  Or the attorney I met at an event this week who was hired by her neighbor.)  Second, you’ve come this far, so what do you have to lose by continuing for another minute?  Think broadly, from any house of worship you belong to, a yoga class you attend, your kid’s school, the people you know at the dog park, your college alumni club, etc.    

This does not need to be perfect, but it is a launching pad for you and will be a resource, so go back and add to it as you remember things. 

Phew!  That might not have taken the whole 15 minutes, but you are all done.  Save this list (if you’ve written it on paper, take a photo or scan it on your phone in case you misplace it).

Now pat yourself on the back.  You have taken the first step in building your network.  No nametags or awkward introductions necessary.  

Have a few more minutes this week?  Go check out your LinkedIn profile.  Make sure it is up to date, proofread it for any errors, and add any groups you belong to on LinkedIn to your list.       

Have a good week, and thanks for reading.   Come back next week for phase two, when we will continue building your network in just 15 minutes a week.

And if you are interested in help building your network, advancing in your career, or transitioning to a new job or new career, contact us to learn how we can help.

PS: Earlier this week I met a reader of our blog, who offered some requests for future blog posts.  (Hi, EN!)  If you have topics you’d like us to cover, please leave a comment or send us an email.