Networking is one of the best ways to find a job or jump-start a business that’s stuck in a rut. Yet, many people don’t do it because they find it intimidating or scary.
If this describes you, here’s a tip: make it fun. There are many ways to network, especially if you’re willing to get a little creative.
I applied this advice to my own business in 2009, and as a result landed a portion of a large government contract that would boost my company’s annual revenue to more than $4 million in 2010, up from less than $100,000 in previous years.
Frustrated with the hiring downturn brought on by the Great Recession, I figured a networking event would be a terrific way to build new contacts for my business. But to shake things up a little, I invited friends, acquaintances and clients, and staged the event as a cocktail party in my home.
Inviting a mix of friends and clients, and holding the event in my home, helped me stand out. The personal setting also allowed my guests to feel more connected and more invested in the success of each other.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 70 percent of all jobs are found through networking. Here are some of my other favorite tips for using business networking to the greatest advantage:
- Join a professional association and build relationships with key leaders within the organization. Recruiters often contact local chapters of professional organizations to learn which members are looking for jobs or wanting to make a change.
- Join the local chapter of your university’s alumni association. There’s an automatic instant bond between people who attended the same school. This is a great choice for people who are normally shy about going to networking events.
- Volunteer your time. Whether it’s working with a charity where you have a personal interest, or on a pro bono project within your regular line of work, you’ll gain a feeling of fulfillment and new connections who may yield returns down the road.
- Attend networking events. Find out about them by conducting a web search. After the event, send a hand-written follow up note to people whose business cards you collected during the mixer.
- Use social networking. Expand your social network when you meet someone at a networking event by connecting with them on LinkedIn.
- Get involved in the Southwest Job Network. The Southwest Job Network is an all-volunteer program that meets twice a month in Phoenix. You can get involved by participating as a volunteer, attending their events or by doing both.
- Offer to sponsor a meeting of your local professional association. Meeting sponsorships help the group defray costs and gets you in front of your target audience.
- Host your own networking event, either in your home or in a restaurant meeting room.
One of the easiest ways to find a new job or a build a new business connection is simply to bring up the topic in conversation.
Don’t be shy about talking about the fact you’re looking for a job. Once you start doing that, you may be surprised. Your best chance of finding a position is knowing someone who can connect you to someone else within a company.