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Managing Monday: Everyday Networking

September 24, 2012

When many people think of networking, they imagine awkward exchanges with stiff people at crowded events.  While such events do in fact present networking opportunities, the truth is as individuals in a heavily populated world, nearly every minute of every day poses a networking opportunity.

As children, most of us are taught to not talk to strangers.  While this is important advice to protect innocent children’s safety, it is advice that should be thrown out the window for those in the working world.  Talking to strangers and getting to know them is what networking is all about.

So, how can you turn mundane, everyday occurrences into networking opportunities?  It’s simple:  Get talking.

Although she’s been a stay-at-home mom my entire life, my mother is perhaps the greatest networker I know. Why is this the case?  It’s because she’s fearless when it comes to approaching and talking to people.  My mom meets friends everywhere she goes.  The grocery store.  Airplanes.  Restaurants. 

Her approach is nearly foolproof and something that can be easily incorporated into anybody’s life to begin the process of what I like to call “everyday networking.”

1.  Approach people fearlessly

When you have a genuinely kind spirit and happy disposition, the chances are that if you approach a stranger to talk, you will be received positively.  Most people in this world are good, kind people, who enjoy positive interactions with others.

Given this, in order to begin everyday networking, you must begin approaching those you meet during your everyday happenings and strike up conversations. 

When I worked on the 11th floor of a large office building in Orange County, I made it my mission to speak to a different person each day in the elevator.  From my perspective, we were all trapped in the cube for at least a minute, so I figured I would use the time to my advantage to begin making connections.  By simply greeting people as they walked onto the elevator with “good morning” and a kind smile, I was able to expand my network and meet a variety of interesting professionals.

The first step in everyday networking–approaching people–is arguably the hardest.  It is the hardest because it takes fearlessness, where you cannot worry about not being positively received or being rejected. 

2.  Get to the point quick

Within five minutes of meeting someone, my mom is capable of learning their entire life’s story.  She is capable of doing this, because her fearless nature allows her to avoid beating around the bush and instead, ask substantive questions.

When you are engaging in everyday networking, you generally do not have a lot of time to work with.  Generally, you are waiting in line at Starbucks, riding up an elevator or pushing a cart through a grocery store.

So, how do you get the most bang for your networking buck in these moments?  You do it by getting to the point quick.

My greatest interest in life is sports.  Thus, the people who can offer me the most in terms of networking, are those who likewise have an interest in sports.  So, when I am everyday networking, it generally goes something like this:

Me:  Good morning!  It’s a nice day, isn’t it?

Stranger at Starbucks:  It sure is.  I’m glad I’m getting my coffee though.

Me:  I hear ya.  It’s good to have to get through Monday.  Where are you headed to this morning?

The Stranger at Starbucks would then explain where he or she works.  There’s a chance that he or she works in the sports industry.  There’s also a chance that he or she doesn’t.  The good news, though, is that if they do, I now know that.  Since I know that, I can easily segway into what I do in the world of sports and begin working to make a professional connection.  To sum it up, you never know unless you ask.  And in everyday networking situations, you need to ask quickly.

3.  Seal the deal

If you find that the stranger you’ve begun speaking with works in a field you’re interested in, you must then quickly work to seal the deal and begin a professional relationship with them.  You do this in the most obvious way possible:  by asking for their business card.

While this may seem awkward, professionals do not find being asked for a business card strange.  It is something that happens to them on a daily basis.  Thus, this is a natural question to ask.

However, it is important that you have your own business cards. First, this makes you look more professional.  However, and perhaps more importantly, in the off-chance that the person you’re speaking with doesn’t have one, you’ll at least be able to give them your contact information with the hope of continuing the professional relationship.

The process doesn’t end upon receiving the business card, however.  Rather, you must follow-up with the person!  Generally, whenever I meet someone and receive their business card, I make it a point to email them later that night.  The email is standard and simple.  First, I say that it was great meeting them and remind them of where we met.  You have to assume that the person meets many people and may not necessarily remember you.  Then, I mention something from our conversation that I enjoyed or struck me.  Given that if I met the person in an everyday networking situation, our conversation was likely short, this tidbit would likely be something about their career or interest in sports.  Then, I ask if they would be willing to grab lunch or coffee sometime, so that I can learn more about what they do.

This process has worked amazingly for me.  When you engage in everyday networking, you are sure to meet somebody new every, single day.  Since you are meeting somebody new every, single day, you are increasing the possibility of creating opportunities to meet individuals in the field of work you are interested in.  Because the pool of people you are meeting is growing larger by the day, you find that you are continuously expanding your network to include people whose careers are relevant to your goals.

So, the next time you get on the elevator, start by saying “hello” to the stranger standing next to you.  You never know who they might be or what they can do for your career!

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