August 11, 2014
Let’s be honest. You probably don’t need to read yet another article about the importance of networking. By now we all know how critical it is to career mobility, entrepreneurial growth and overall success. That’s why my coaching clients are so frustrated when they feel like “it isn’t working.” They have attended networking events, made notes on the backs of business cards, done the appropriate follow-ups and had the coffee meetings. Yet the opportunities aren’t flowing. Usually the problem is that they haven’t spent enough time cultivating their network. Growing a fruitful network is a lot like gardening. It requires patience and consistent tending.
So what can you do if you need opportunities NOW and your network is still in the seedling stage? Make the best use of your strongest existing support system: your friends and family. Not related to the Rockefellers? Don’t worry. A contact doesn’t need to be a business powerhouse in order to be valuable. You might be surprised the conversations that your loved ones have at their places of worship, PTA meetings, bowling leagues and volunteer events. However, just because people care about you doesn’t mean that they are fully equipped to connect you with the right job leads or potential customers. You may need to do a little work to help them help you.
Tell them what you need in plain English
I’m not the smartest person in the world, but I’ve got a couple of degrees under my belt, AND I work in the career industry. Yet I still occasionally see resumes where I don’t fully understand what someone does for a living. Can you imagine what all of that jargon sounds like to your dear Aunt Edna or your best friend, the nurse? They don’t need to understand the intimate details of your work. Try to give them a simple picture of your role and the type of assistance you would appreciate.
Keep your request simple
This one is usually a challenge for job seekers. You may be flexible about the types of positions that you are willing to entertain, but that doesn’t mean that you need to share all of your options with every networking contact. Sometimes we forget that our loved ones are human beings with other very important things on their minds. If your request is too complicated, then even if they are committed to your success they won’t be able to recall your request when they meet someone or stumble across an opportunity that can benefit you. If your golf buddy doesn’t work in the same industry, try to limit your request to one or two simple, memorable items.
Ask them directly
You spend a lot of time with friends and family. You high-five them at pick-up basketball games, toast drinks at your favorite bars and pass the gravy at holiday dinners. They know that you are looking for work. Maybe you’ve talked about your new business and how you need more customers. If they had any good contacts, wouldn’t they have already shared them?
Not necessarily. There are plenty of people in your immediate circle who will proactively open up their rolodexes and start figuring out how they can help. However, over time I’ve noticed that there are just as many well-intentioned people who NEVER CONSIDER taking that next step. These are not mean or selfish people. They will listen to your concerns or complaints and even offer advice. But unless you make a direct request, they’ll leave the conversation satisfied that they’ve done their duty as a good friend. Don’t make assumptions. Ask.
Be mindful of their personal risk
Whenever a networking contact connects you with a person or opportunity, he is spending some of his personal social capital. If you act inappropriately or are unreliable, your contact suffers the risk to his reputation. This fact remains true even if you are one of their closest friends or family members. Before making a request, you must be very sure that you have demonstrated that you are worthy of the risk. Your cousin may trust you with her life yet still be hesitant about introducing you to her Type-A mentor. Do an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and don’t overreach. Your loved one may be less willing to help you in the future, or, worse, you may cause damage to an important relationship.
Just because you implement these steps with your friends and family doesn’t necessarily mean that you will immediately be inundated with job offers or new customers. However, you will be better positioned to continue growing your business network with the confidence that you have an army of your biggest fans making inroads on your behalf. And don’t forget: networking is a two-way street. At your next family affair or social gathering, make a commitment to be a better resource for the people you care about. If you do that consistently, you’ll soon be almost as popular as grandma’s apple pie.